Dinner with Beneficiaries

During the 2015 Las Patronas beneficiary celebration, a dinner held Jan. 21 at Estancia Hotel in La Jolla, there was a lot of giving going on. The La Jolla-based philanthropic organization distributed checks in excess of $20,000 each to 10 major beneficiaries, and bestowed its Spirit of Giving Award.

Despite the eleventh-hour cancellation of the 2014 Jewel Ball — the organization’s major fundraising event — Las Patronas raised $881,000 for non-profits across San Diego. When the Ball, themed Moonlit Mambo, was cancelled due to inclement weather, the silent auction went online and Moonlit Mambo chair Susie Piegza said the group received generous, unsolicited underwriting donations.

“We had the highest grossing post-ball sale ever!” Piegza joked. Moonlit Mambo was the first cancellation in the organization’s 68-year history. Piegza, along with her Jewel Ball co-chairs Melinda Mahony and Cari Massaad, presented hefty checks, representing about half of the total amount raised, to the major beneficiaries. The remaining funds will be distributed to dozens of minor beneficiaries.

Bookended by heartfelt thanks, representatives from each of the recipient organizations shared how the grant would benefit their cause.

■ A grant to the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank will fund a 12-passenger van with removable seats to transport personnel and deliver food.

Representing the food bank, Jim Floros said, “Some of the things that surprise people about the Food Bank (is that) we serve 370,000 people every month. Of that population, a lot are seniors living on fixed incomes or children living in poverty. There are still elementary school children in our community for whom their last meal of the week is Friday afternoon at school and they will not eat again until Monday morning when they come back to school.” He said the food bank also serves 28,000 former and active duty service members, and their dependents, every month.

■ For Parkinson’s Association of San Diego, the grant will fund fitness and physical therapy equipment at an exercise center for patient and research use.

Jerry Henberger explained, “If you know anything about Parkinson’s, you know there are two parts: the mental complications and cognitive disorders, and the movement disorder. This grant is going to the motion therapy side, for exercise and postural stability equipment.” He added that after the site visit — at which time Las Patronas members vet the organizations applying for grants — Parkinson’s Association board president Rick Brydges took a fall due to his own Parkinson’s disease, and broke his arm. “When Rick fell, he couldn’t exercise and is now in a wheelchair,” Henberger said. “It was his vision to get this equipment to help those (affected by Parkinson’s related mobility issues) be stable when they walk.”

■ The grant for Promises2Kids will buy a 15-passenger van to support foster youth enrolled in the Guardian Scholars Program, a program that offers consistent educational and emotional support for those in foster care.

“There are 3,100 children today living away from their families, in foster care, usually because of abuse or neglect,” said its CEO Tonya Torosian. “Of those children, 50 percent will not graduate from high school — not because they aren’t smart, simply because of their circumstances. Foster children who grow up in care have approximately 10 moves in the course of their education. That’s 10 schools, 10 homes or group homes, 10 families and social support networks. I don’t know about you, but I had one. I had one high school, one family, one set of friends.”

With support from the Guardian Scholars, she said, 80 percent of participants went on to higher education. Of those, 80 percent have graduated.

■ For Tradition One, a long-term residential program for men recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, the grant will fund a replacement roof for the main facility, which program executive director Gloria Thompson explained houses the meeting room, dining room and gathering place.

“I remember we were having lunch and it was raining, and the rain started coming through the roof, so a couple of guys got up and got some pots and pans from the kitchen to catch the rain,” she said. “By the time lunch was over, we had a trash can catching the water. We’ve been doing that for years.” Thompson said maintenance crews would come in occasionally and patch the roof, but this will be a more permanent solution to “maintain a safe and healthy environment for our guys to be successful in their recovery.”

■ Other projects funded by Las Patronas grants include:

La Jolla Playhouse: A 15-passenger van for the Performance Outreach Program Tour to transport performers and sets;

Mission Valley YMCA: Replacement turf for an indoor soccer field at Toby Wells Field;

Pro Kids Golf Academy — The First Tee of San Diego: A 12-passenger van to transport students and golf equipment;

San Diego Blood Bank: Getting a blood-mobile for the Blood Collection Program;

San Diego Junior Theatre: LED lighting package for the Casa del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park

Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla: 28 crash carts for the new Scripps Prebys Cardiovascular Institute

Spirit of Giving Award

Bestowed to those who help Las Patronas in its efforts to host events that serve as major fundraisers, the 2015 Spirit of Giving Award went to the Alpha Project — a repeat beneficiary.

Las Patronas immediate past president Jena Joyce explained that in the late 1990s Alpha Project received a grant to buy a van, and soon afterward were in discussions to have a crew of men come and help set-up an upcoming Jewel Ball. Each year since, the Alpha Project has sent a crew to help bring glassware, bars, rolls of fabric, flowers ... whatever is needed, Joyce said.

“These are men who have gone through the Alpha Project Program, which offers work and housing opportunities for homeless men. But these eight men are not paid for their time, they are volunteers. Many of them return year after year with a big smile and a can-do attitude,” she said. “Furthermore, they don’t worry about breaking their nails, re-applying face cream, getting tan lines or checking on the kids. They keep going until the last truck is unloaded.”

Representing the Alpha Project, president and CEO Bob McElroy received the recognition (which in previous years has gone to the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, Ladeki Restaurant Group, Chism Brothers Painting, Randy Cutting of Abbey Party Rentals, and others) with a standing ovation.

McElroy explained that the crew is comprised of pre-released convicts in the Alpha Project’s long-term drug and alcohol recovery facility in Vista. They work and participate in treatment from 4 a.m. until 9 p.m., six days a week, for a year. “You really have to want your recovery and one of the biggest blessings — not just from the grants

from this organization — is they get treated with respect (by Las Patronas members),” he said. “Eighty percent of graduates are still drug- and alcohol-free, fully employed and living independently. Ninety-three percent in treatment that come to work with you graduate, and are still sober. Why? Because you treat them with respect. You give them so much hope.”

At this point, someone from the audience yelled “We love them!”

Smiling, McElroy responded, “You have been our biggest champions, so I accept this award on behalf of all the men and women, the tens of thousands of men and women, that have worked their way out of a sleeping bag on the sidewalk and become successful ... Every time we have a success story, you have a stake in that. I hope and pray that you realize that.”

Next Jewel Ball

2015 Jewel Ball Chair, Cari Massaad, said the 69th annual event, themed “Magnifique!” will be Aug. 8 at La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club and will be a tribute to romance, fashion and elegance.

The major beneficiaries will be: Alpha Project, Arc of San Diego, Boys and Girls Club of Greater San Diego, Living Coast Discovery Center, Mountain Health and Community Services, Old Globe Theatre, Preuss School at UCSD, University of San Diego, and San Diego Zoo Global.