Las Patronas presents $1 million-plus to San Diego non-profits: Group celebrates series of ‘firsts’ at onset of its 71st year at La Jolla event

In honor of its 71st anniversary, the La Jolla-based women’s philanthropy, Las Patronas, celebrated a couple of other firsts at its Beneficiary Luncheon on Jan. 18 at The Marine Room.

The event was set to present its 2016 grantees with portions of the more than $1 million raised during the Jewel Ball, Shangri-La. But in addition to hearing from and giving checks to 10 San Diego non-profits, Las Patronas announced its first Legacy Grant, distributed its first “history book,” and for the first time, bestowed La Jolla Light with its Spirit of Giving award.

“You might think our favorite day on the Las Patronas calendar is the famous First Saturday in August, when we get to see the fruits of our efforts producing the Jewel Ball. Or you might think our favorite day is two days after the Jewel Ball, when we get to get some sleep,” said 2017 president Leigh Plesniak. “But I know I speak for the entire membership when I say that today is our absolutely favorite day in Las Patronas. Today is the day we get to enjoy the reward and distribute the Ball proceeds to our carefully selected major beneficiaries.”

Legacy Grant

In addition to the checks distributed, Las Patronas gave away its first Legacy Grant to the Big Sister League of San Diego. “We have the honor and privilege to be able to present the first grant that has been funded by the Las Patronas Endowment,” Plesniak said. “The Endowment was created in 1990 and it’s been growing ever since. The intention is to provide a sustainable long-term source of income through estate planning, bequests and direct donations. We’ve gotten to a place where we can start funding small grants with the proceeds from the Endowment.”

Its first recipient, the Big Sister League will use the grant to purchase a refrigerator and frost-free freezer for its transitional housing facility.

Antonia Lawrence, representing the League, explained that the organization formed in the 1940s to assist women who were jailed for violating curfew laws of the time — mostly visiting women hoping to see their boyfriends and husbands in military service. The League purchased a house on Front Street to provide them with shelter. Now, the organization owns and uses two houses to fulfill its mission.

“While we do purchase a lot of our food for our residents, we rely on the Food Bank and Feeding San Diego to obtain a lot of our food. Proper refrigeration and freezer space is vital to keeping it safe,” Lawrence said. “We are sincerely grateful to be the first recipient of the Las Patronas Legacy Grant, which has allowed us to purchase a refrigerator and freezer to replace those that are long past their useful life.”

A ‘History’ book

In another first, Las Patronas distributed a photo book, chronicling the organization’s 70-year history. “It was a joint effort between advisory members, active members and beneficiaries,” said 2016 Jewel Ball chair Kathryn Gayner. “But there is one in particular without whom we could not have done it, and that is Lydia McNeil. It was a joy and only made possible by the generous underwriting of Scripps Health.”

In addition to the checks and awards given out that day, each recipient received a copy of the book.

Spirit of Giving

Among the proud owners of the book is La Jolla Light, recipient of the Spirit of Giving Award. In presenting the award, 2016 president Lisa Betyar said, “Each year, Las Patronas seeks to recognize an organization or individual that has consistently supported the efforts and interests of Las Patronas. They must share similar cares, concerns and community values as those of Las Patronas. In this regard, we are proud to recognize the La Jolla Light with the 2016 Spirit of Giving Award.”

Noting recent awards won at the San Diego Press Club, Betyar called Executive Editor Susan DeMaggio “a visionary editor with a flair for community journalism” and said reporter Ashley Mackin “has attended so many of our events and has done such a beautiful job writing articles and taking equally beautifully photos.” She noted in particular the Light’s “Purpose-Driven Pastime” article from February 2016, which recapped the group’s 70 years of service.

More than a million given away

The luncheon was capped by the distribution of grants from the 2016 Jewel Ball to 10 major beneficiaries in excess of $20,000 each. Twenty-one minor grants were also given, in amounts of $20,000 or less.

Gayner, and her Jewel Ball co-chairs Maureen Weber and Kelley Albence, distributed checks and let representatives from each organization speak about their causes. These included Birch Aquarium, Episcopal Community Services, Generate Hope, Girl Scouts of San Diego-Imperial County, The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, the Maritime Museum Association of San Diego, New Haven Youth & Family Services, Rebuilding Together San Diego, Serving Seniors and Sharp HealthCare Foundation.

For example, The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood innovation will use its $53,000 grant to purchase an automated silkscreen press for their youth workforce development program. The Maritime Museum Association of San Diego will use its $32,000 for materials for the re-decking of Star of India’s weather deck.

“The Star of India is the jewel of the Maritime collection of ships and one of our City’s most viable and treasured landmarks. Current leakage of the upper decks is seeping into the ship’s iron hull. If not stopped, it will ultimately destroy the ship. Re-decking will secure its integrity for years to come,” said Weber.

Rebuilding Together San Diego, which provides home repairs for low-income families, will use its $34,000 gift for a box truck for delivery and pickup of construction material and storage. Executive director Cheryl Keenan said, “We have a program where families want to take in foster children, but their homes are not adequate, so we come in and fix what Social Services says needs to be fixed. We are helping a family right now, who had a drunk driver plow through their house. The mother is raising five children and the driver took out their kitchen and bathroom, so we were able to fix that up for them.

“We have an average of five homes or projects going at a time and one truck, so with this truck we can (do much more).”

Jewel Ball 2017

Hoping to raise even more money in 2017, Jewel Ball chair Jorie Fisher (whose grandmother was a founding member of Las Patronas) discussed “Taking Flight,” the Jewel Ball set for Aug. 5 at La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. “We cannot wait to take everyone on a nostalgic journey from terminal to takeoff first class,” she said. “We look forward to welcoming you all aboard, so sit back, relax and enjoy the tradition of giving.”

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