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Easter Seal League Acts to Broaden Its Base

The Easter Seal League of Orange County held its first fund-raiser Saturday night at the Hotel Meridien in Newport Beach, raising $25,000 for local programs providing recreation and therapy for the physically and mentally disabled.

The $100-a-plate dinner-dance, which attracted 200 guests, included silent and live auctions to raise money for the Easter Seal Society of Orange County. There also was a drawing for a 1986 Hyundai Excel; winners Mike and Melanie Cooper of Anaheim Hills donated $1,000 to the society after deciding to take cash instead of the car.

A special guest was Easter Seal poster girl Kimberly Morris, a lively 7-year-old who was born with Down’s syndrome. She attended the gala with her legal guardian, Vicki Suba of Mission Viejo. Kimberly, who has appeared in the movie “For the Love of Joshua,” entertained herself by joining couples on the dance floor and wheeling around a stroller and cabbage patch doll purchased for her during the silent auction by Art Bartlett, who co-founded Century 21 Real Estate Corp. in 1971.

The majority of guests were employees of Century 21 Real Estate, an Irvine-based firm that, according to Bartlett, is a major contributor to the national headquarters of the Easter Seal Society in Chicago. The Easter Seal League was formed about a year ago by 10 wives of Century 21 executives. The support group plans to make the dinner-dance an annual event to raise funds for the Easter Seal Society of Orange County, said Bobbie Laughlin, president of the League.

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“The Orange County League is a natural spin-off from Century 21,” said Monte Helme of Villa Park, whose wife, Margaret, served as event chairperson. “A lot of our wives are involved, and it was time to broaden the base of support--bring in a more diverse group. It’s gone beyond Century 21 now and into the community.”

Bartlett, who is no longer with Century 21 but holds the title of chairman of the board emeritus, explained why the real estate firm adopted the Easter Seal Society as a charity when he was board chairman.

“About eight years ago, I started looking for a major organization so that we could start giving back to the community,” Bartlett said. “Frank Carney, president of Pizza Hut, suggested I look into the Easter Seal Society. We did some investigating, and I liked everything I saw. It’s a great thing for any age and any denomination.”

Pledged $1 Million

“The first year I went a little crazy,” he added. “I pledged a million dollars.”

Now, he said, the company donates more than $2 million a year to the national Easter Seal Society.

Greg Winterbottom, regional director of the Easter Seal Society of Orange County but “just a guest” at the fund-raiser, said he was pleased with the formation of the league and the possibility of the fund-raiser being held annually.

“One of the problems is that our fund-raising techniques have been geared to direct mail,” he said, noting that contributions by mail have dropped 35% since last year. “I don’t know what to blame it on except that people are just not donating.”

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