For Los Angeles attorney Sal Lavinia, a fund-raising event is a many-splendored thing. "I enjoy meeting people and I enjoy going to parties," he says. "And it all happens to go for a good cause, so it's a win-win situation."
Lavinia, 33, is a member of a select group of partying philanthropists, a breed that's appealing more and more to arts, medical and political institutions in these economically tightfisted times: young adults.
Earlier generations of charity folk may have set their sights mainly on the older, well-heeled crowd able to dish out $500 a plate at fund-raisers. But now institutions are finding it pays to invest in grooming younger people to ante up the doable $50 for a charity event ticket. After all, young lawyers eventually become older lawyers.
"What started these groups was the realization that once the older regime isn't there to support these institutions, who do you look to?" says MOCA Contemporaries head Julie Miyoshi. "It's a long process of educating people and getting them committed to an institution, so you have to start early on."
"Charity groups in general are finding that the only way for them to survive is to keep bringing in new blood and the younger generation," says Nathalie Kunin, who belongs to the Venice Family Clinic's HANDS group. "My mom has been a volunteer at the clinic for many years. Still, I'm the next generation, and my husband and I will be able to participate for many years to come."
Even California's Young Republicans, who used to put their muscle to work on campaigns, discovered an unmined field of junior donors a couple of years ago. The group shifted some of its guns to fund-raising events "because money's it ," as former YR state and county chairman John Hilbert puts it. "Bodies are fine. I told somebody, 'They'd rather have a thousand bucks than a thousand hours.' I don't mean to demean bodies, but money's it ."
Certainly young adults have been lending a fund-raising hand as long as the local 69-year-old Junior League has been donning white gloves. And some of the hardiest organizations, such as MOCA Contemporaries and Concern II, have been surfing waves of success for at least a decade.
But the '90s have also seen the dawn of a patch of new groups, all wooing the limited pool of young Angelenos willing to devote time and/or money to a good time and a good cause--and maybe meet a mate in the process.
Recent newcomers include the American Friends of Israel Museum Associates, Stop Cancer II, Project Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles County Museum's Muse (which "trains" museum-goers rather than fund-raisers). That doesn't include other organizations that are hungrily eyeing other groups' successes. Teach for America, which dispatches recent college graduates into the public schools, is laying the groundwork for its own young adult group.
"I think that's a real untapped group of people, particularly in this city, who are anxious to be involved, anxious to play a role in community outreach and remedying some of the ills that face Los Angeles," says Greg Good, regional director of Teach for America/Los Angeles.
Untapped? Or tapped out?
"The problem here, and this is not just for young charity groups, but every group is going after the same people," says Los Angeles writer Betty Goodwin, a board member of a new young offshoot of the American Friends of the Israel Museum. "There's a very small fraction of Angelenos who will spend $50 and up for a ticket to anything, even if it's going to cancer.
"So I think it's very hard to get these groups off the ground, to get enough people, and really, what is the cutoff (age)?" Goodwin says. "You go to singles events of young contemporaries and there are 50-year-old men, and you think, 'Yucch.' You have to deliver what you're advertising, because one important function of these organizations is to meet people."
Most of the joiners are single, although the groups vary in how much oomph they place on socializing. L.A. County Young Democrats' platform used to be throwing a good party, but now it's joining the Party. Over the past couple of years, the group rode the Clinton wave to power within party ranks and the focus has changed to helping members win local elections, says the group's head, Eric Bradley.
In contrast, Concern II advertised a recent fund-raiser in the singles column of the L.A. Weekly. Its president, Derek Alpert, soft-pedals the group's matchmaking mission, saying the column was one of the few published places to list the event. But Alpert acknowledges that for some, fund-raisers are replacing gyms as meeting grounds--and charities are cashing in too.
"It's not an easy social community, but if you can find quality people--and you have to find that somebody who donates their time to be involved in charity makes them more a quality person than the average barfly--these are the kind of people you want to associate with. That has a lot to do with the success," Alpert says.
Couples also find volunteering can stoke a relationship's fires.
"Being part of the clinic and part of HANDS is something my husband and I can do together," Kunin says. "That's an important aspect for us as a couple. As much as it's a great thing for singles, a lot of couples feel like, how often can you do things together that are worthwhile and it's as a couple?"
While everyone agrees the fund-raiser fun factor helps bait the hook that brings in new people, some organizers worry that events will nudge groups so far toward socializing that they can lose sight of their real goals. MOCA Contemporaries, for one, is drawing back somewhat from its party rep.
"Young groups tend to lose a lot of people because sometimes they're seen as singles groups and more of a social scene," Miyoshi says. "Now we're refocusing on our educational program and bringing in people who are really interested in art and the museum."
But some balance between fun and fund will always be there.
"The percentage depends on the group," says a 38-year-old lawyer who belongs to several. "Some are 95% community-oriented and 5% social. Some are 95% social and 5% community.
"When you raise money for hospitals, there's a social and charity component, but it's a different access point for young people. Instead of raising $1 million, they raise $10,000. They're philanthropists in training."
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Groups to Join
Here is a partial list of young adult support groups in Los Angeles.
Junior League of Los Angeles
At 69, the Junior League is the grandma of these groups. Its dual mission is to train young women to become community leaders and to fund projects, which include Options House, a temporary housing facility for runaway teens. The league's first permanent home at 630 N. Larchmont Blvd. is slated for a fall opening. That will coincide with the league's 70th anniversary, and the plan is to celebrate both with a black-tie event on-site.
The group of 450 active members has dropped its "outdated image" and membership restrictions, says president Nancy Hindle-Katel.
"We're committed to becoming a multicultural organization," she says. "Any woman committed to voluntarism between 21 and 45 who pays her dues and participates in a training course for one year is eligible for active membership."
Membership fee: $192 a year.
Age range: 21-40. At 40, graduates become "sustainers" who mentor younger junior leaguers.
Contact: (213) 937-5566.
Concern II sprang out of Concern--literally its parent group because it was started by the offspring of Concern folk. The junior group was formed in 1981 to help fund cancer research, particularly in the area of children's immunology. Concern II bankrolled the first joint project between Childrens Hospital in L.A. and the All-Union Children's Cancer Research Hospital in Moscow.
"We realized that people our age didn't want to work in the shadow of our parents," says Derek Alpert, group head and one of the founders.
Concern II now has 2,200 members among chapters in L.A., Tustin and Cleveland. The group has raised $3.5 million through events, membership dues and a tribute program, which helps people make donations in honor of birthdays and funerals. The group also has regular meetings with guest speakers and plans events for young cancer patients and their families, which have included trips to Universal Studios and Halloween parties.
Age Range: No limits, but most members cluster from 30 to 45.
Membership fee: $25 a year.
Contact: (310) 724-5335.
Stop Cancer II
Stop Cancer II was started in December as an offshoot of the 7-year-old Stop Cancer. It sprang out of a Stop Cancer "Emergency Blues" benefit at the House of Blues with John Fogerty in September. The event raised $200,000 for Toluca Lake resident Jamie Belmont's bone marrow transplant. Belmont didn't survive, but the group plans to make the blues benefit an annual event. The plan is to hold two or three fund-raisers a year and sponsor donation cards and meetings.
Stop Cancer II funds grants for younger researchers at two Los Angeles facilities--the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA and the Kenneth Norris Jr. Cancer Center at USC. The group has a core of 20 and is recruiting new members.
Age range: 25 to 45.
Membership fee: $50
Contact: Chair Devorah Moos-Hankin at (310) 824-5200.
MOCA Contemporaries has emerged from a lull by aggressively recruiting new members and shifting its focus somewhat from parties to art, stressing studio and gallery visits, day trips and lectures.
"Now we're refocusing and looking at really educating young people and bringing in people who are really interested in art and the museum," says Contemporaries president Julie Miyoshi.
Still, the 200-member group is reviving its big splashy fund-raisers from the late '80s with an Aug. 12 event at Bergamot Station planned for 2,000 revelers. The Contemporaries, a model for similar groups around the country, has raised more than $100,000 for MOCA since it began in 1986.
Age range: 21 to 45
Membership fee: $90 a year.
Contact: (213) 621-1703.
Venice Family Clinic HANDS
HANDS (Help Answers Nurture Develop Support) was started in the summer of 1991 by an employee to lure young people into supporting the free clinic, which provides services to nearly 11,000 uninsured working poor people. The group has grown to 500 paid members and a mailing list of 4,000.
HANDS members volunteer at the clinic, attend meetings with guest speakers, organize activities for children who are clinic patients and put together four or five fund-raising events a year, such as wine-tastings and a polo match.
The year's big event is the Midsummer Night's Ball at Santa Monica's Museum of Flying, which raised $33,000 last year. The black-tie event is scheduled for July 8.
Age range: 20s to 30s.
Membership fee: $25 a year.
Contact: HANDS coordinator Jamie Neal at (310) 392-8630, Ext. 368.
L.A. Young Democrats
The Young Democrats has thrown a bunch of mega-parties at nightclubs such as the Roxbury and the Mayan to help campaigns for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and other big Democrats. The group also made a rap video with Young M.C. called "No More Points of Light" a few years ago to counter then-President George Bush's campaign to encourage volunteerism to pick up government slack.
The 200 Young Democrats have since been shifting gears from a social-political club to one that has gained a firm foothold in the party, by planting members in jobs as professional staffers and campaign managers. Now it's focusing on ways to get members elected to local office and organizing three fund-raisers a year to help the Young Dems network with fellow travelers.
The group also plans regular meetings as well as special educational events. The Young Democrats will meet at KCET studios at 7:30 tonight to discuss the need for public broadcasting, which is being threatened by congressional budget cuts.
Age range: 20 to 36.
Membership fee: $15.
Contact: (310) 841-4451.
The Young Republicans of California has more than 2,000 members who sponsor registration drives, work on campaigns and help raise war chests. The group has held fund-raisers at spots that draw younger people, such as the Hollywood Athletic Club, for such high-profile party folks as Gov. Pete Wilson and former Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Michael Huffington.
"You can have 175, 200 young professionals, and it's fun, and to be honest, there's quite a bit of drinking, and the eats are very good and it also feeds bodies to your organization," says former state YR head John Hilbert.
Fund-raising activity tends to ebb and flow with campaign tides. A related group, the New Republican Leaders, sprang up seven months ago to help funnel money into the party. That group has a stiffer membership fee of $500.
Age range: 18-40.
Membership fee: $5.
Contact: California Republicans at (818) 841-5210.
Childrens Hospital has two support groups for young adults--This Little Light, a 3-year-old group for members on the Westside, and Project Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, a new group for people in the San Fernando Valley.
This Little Light was founded by attorney Ranlyn Hill in memory of her brother, who was treated at Childrens when he drowned 12 years ago. It holds two fund-raisers a year, a summer event and a New Year's Eve party at various locations. This Little Light's membership is closed at 50, but the Valley group is looking for new members for its own fund-raisers.
Age range: 21-35.
Membership fee: None.
Contact: Suzanne Beams, Childrens Hospital manager of associates and affiliates at (213) 669-2367.
American Friends of the Israel Museum Associates
The group held its first event at the Pacific Design Center in February--the U.S. premiere screening of William Wegman's film, "The Hardly Boys in Hardly Gold," which featured the artist's resourceful Weimaraners. The $50-a-ticket benefit raised enough to purchase a Wegman photograph for the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The parent American Friends holds events to develop a community of support for the museum, which has a sweeping collection of artworks spanning ancient, pre-Columbian, Old Masters and contemporary periods. The organization, based in Beverly Hills and New York City, is a fund-raising arm and sponsors lecture tours to the United States by museum staff.
The associates offshoot has a core of a dozen board members and is recruiting new people. The plan is to hold half a dozen events a year.
"It's a way for young people to maintain their roots and not be involved with something religious or political," says Catherine Benkaim, West Coast director of the American Friends.
Age range: 20 to 40.
Membership fee: Undecided.
Contact: (310) 858-8890.
Muse was formed in June to encourage people to learn about art and make them comfortable with museums, specifically the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
"It's an introduction to the art museum in a fun social setting," says Jerry Padbury, LACMA general membership coordinator.
Muse already has 1,000 members, who have attended cocktail and New Year's Eve parties, as well as a behind-the-scenes tour of the photography department, a talk on how Annie Leibovitz's photography stoked the concept of fame in this country, and a talk at Emporio Armani by a costumes curator on Italian fashion. Most events are free with membership in Muse.
Age range: 20s through 40s.
Membership fee: $20 plus $55 museum membership.
Contact: (213) 857-6151.