Helping Families Hawaiian-Style

The event: A Hawaiian-style luau with long boards and leis at the newly opened Duke's restaurant in Huntington Beach. Friday's gala raised funds for Project Self Sufficiency, a program that provides financial and emotional support to low-income single parents.

On the waterfront: About 150 guests, many sporting Aloha shirts, were greeted by hula dancers at Duke's, the new plantation-style restaurant at the base of the Huntington pier and named after Olympic swimmer and surf legend Duke Kahanamoku. Party-goers sipped mai tais adorned with paper umbrellas while admiring the collection of vintage Hawaiian long boards and a clear view to Catalina. They dined on fresh ono from Hawaii and huli-huli chicken (an island recipe).

Fight for independence: Project Self Sufficiency helps single parents living or working in Huntington Beach complete their education and find jobs and housing. The 14-year-old nonprofit agency provides counseling, schoolbooks, clothing, auto repairs, child care and other services to about 100 families.

"Our focus is to help them get off of government assistance and break the cycle" of dependence, said Susan Edwards, program director. "It's not a quick-fix program."

Quote: "The key to Project Self Sufficiency is education. We help mothers get back to school. We give them a helping hand, but the success of the program is due to their hard work," said Haydee Tillotson, a longtime supporter of the program.

Mother's story: Cindy Condict, a program participant for five years who attended with her 11-year-old daughter, Sierra, said she turned to Project Self Sufficiency after losing everything in a divorce. The program helped her graduate from Golden West College and find a job with a company that represents property owners in legal issues.

"To ask for help is really hard, but they allow you to get your pride back. They help you find the strength within yourself to succeed," Condict said.

Bottom line: The luau at Duke's was expected to net $3,000 for Project Self Sufficiency. The restaurant also staged benefit dinners Saturday and Sunday for the Huntington Beach Boys and Girls Club, the Huntington Beach Surf Museum and the Surfriders Foundation, a Costa Mesa-based organization dedicated to ocean preservation.

Faces: Sandy Saxten, president of TS Restaurants, which owns four Duke's restaurants in California and Hawaii; John Tillotson; Allen Baldwin; Ron Shenkman; Don and Dawn Stanton; Steve and Pat Bone; RJ and Rhonda Mayer; Jeff and Chrystal Farrow; and Dorothea Hartford.

Information: To learn more about Project Self Sufficiency, call the office at (714) 536-5263.

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