Michael Malenitza was called up to the microphone on the outside terrace adjacent to the Santa Ana Country Club Golf Course this week.
A field of 120 golfers and another 120 guests gathered at gingham-covered tables at dusk Monday enjoying a dinner of barbecue chicken and ribs after a full day on the greens to support the fourth annual Eric Pepys Memorial Golf Tournament.
"My siblings and I were taken from our parents because of their drug abuse", Malenitza said. "I was 6 years old. We were separated and assigned to different foster homes. Sometime later we were returned to our parents and about a year after that, both our mother and father died of a drug overdose."
Malenitza shared the details of a life in foster care with the audience who had come to raise vital funding for scholarships supporting former foster youth seeking advanced study degrees.
The tournament is aligned with the work of the Orangewood Children's Foundation, a local nonprofit founded in 1981 to provide innovative services for abused and neglected children with a special focus on educational assistance and support for youth transitioning out of foster care into adulthood.
In three years, the Pepys effort has raised more than $300,000 and has provided some 30 former foster youth with advanced study opportunities.
This year, the tournament and summer party is still tallying the donations, but hopes to reach $125,000, which will fund in part the 15 current advanced study scholarship recipients. Malenitza is on the roster of youth making impressive progress.
The crowd of successful local citizen donors including the late Eric Pepys' wife, Shirley. Renee Pepys Lowe and Stan Lowe, Tiffany Pepys Hoey, Max and Chanty Pepys, and Noel and Catherine Smith Pepys joined generous sponsors including Dave Wilson of Wilson Automotive Group, Ron Benigno, Dan Houck, Frank Robitaille, George and Micki Rach, David Grant, Jim and Joanne Grant, and Boa Thy Grant helping to make seemingly insurmountable goals a reality for Malenitza, who is pursuing his MBA at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He also serves as class president and chairman of the International Graduate Business Forum.
The upbeat event, chaired by Pepys daughter Pepys Lowe was supported by a committee including Ellen Goodman, Cindy D'Ambrosio, Cindy Dillon, Michelle O'Leary Koll and Houck, among others. Kent French of the Anaheim Ducks emceed the evening reception and handled the "scholarship ask" raising thousands of dollars for the cause. Susan Samueli, wife of Ducks owner Henry Samueli and a major Orangewood booster, was also on hand for the scholarship fundraiser.
THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.