Column: The Crowd: 44 Women raise scholarship money for adults exiting foster care


Since 2004, a dedicated organization known as 44 Women for Orangewood has focused its fundraising on much-needed scholarships for youths emancipated from the foster care system who wish to attend college but lack the financial and emotional support.

Susan Samueli, activist, philanthropist and co-owner of the Anaheim Ducks, founded the group. She discovered this very real need, frankly a failure of the social services system in terms of helping foster youth transition to independent and successful lives when they turn 18. She rallied the troops, enlisting her close girlfriends, and 44 Women for Children was created.

In recent years the organization has evolved into 44 Women for Orangewood as it has always been under the auspices of the organization’s foundation.

In the early years, Samueli invited her friends to an annual summer luncheon on the oceanfront lawn of her residence in Corona del Mar. The setting was spectacular, the program meaningful, yet the gathering was never glitzy, its serious message paramount.

Samueli is direct and practical. Big money was never spent on a fancy luncheon; she served simple, one-course salads. Money raised went right into the scholarship fund.

Then, as now, the number of former foster youth needing college assistance was extreme. But that never got in the way of helping young men and women, one at a time, evaluating each need separately with care and concern.

As the years have progressed, so has the scope and reach of the organization. The annual luncheon now requires a major hotel ballroom.

Recently, the 14th annual scholarship luncheon unfolded at the Fashion Island Hotel. Co-chaired by Jeanne Boyce and Yvette McCarthy, 300 ladies and gentlemen attended.

Organizers invited Steve Pemberton, a corporate executive, youth advocate and author to share his life story. Pemberton had the crowd listening to his every word. His life experience resonated with the 44 Women message. As a boy, Pemberton was abandoned by his biological family and ended up in foster care. He suffered untold neglect.

He told the audience that his foster family, in addition to not providing any love, support or the basic fundamental needs of a child growing up, had no real interest in his education or development. They didn’t even allow him to read books, a pastime in which he was truly interested. Can you imagine the callousness of an adult guardian not allowing a child to read?

Pemberton sought refuge in his elementary school. Apparently school becoming a place of hope and security is an experience shared among many foster youth.

Pemberton’s overriding message was that three decent people came into his life and set him on course. One was a man who saw his potential and took him in when he had nowhere else to go.

Today, Pemberton is happily married with three children and a successful corporate career. He is also the author of the autobiographical book, “A Chance in the World.”

“Talk to children in the language of their dreams, not that of their current circumstances,” he said at the conclusion of his address.

Joining Pemberton at the podium were youth speakers Orlando Roybal and Desiree Luna. Both delivered their upbeat messages with hope for their futures and sincere appreciation to 44 Women for scholarship assistance and mentoring. As a four-course luncheon was served by the Fashion Island Hotel, prominent guests, including event committee members Carey Clawson, Karen Goldhirsh, Judy Nicholls and Shahrzad Bina, were among the supporting women producing the event alongside co-chairs Boyce and McCarthy.

Front and center were Kimberly Kirksey and title sponsor Hein Papaian. Shirley Pepys, a longtime dedicated advocate, joined Shannon Tarnutzer, Lupe Erwin, Sandi Jackson and Chris Simonsen, chief executive of the Orangewood Foundation.

Major sponsors and underwriters included Ducks’ executives Wendy Arciero and Gina Galasso. They joined foundation board members Bruce Fetter, Dan Houck and John Stratman. Reshma Block, Peggy Holt, Jenny Klein and Bob Theemling, chief program officer of the Orangewood Foundation, attended as well.

Helping to raise money for the cause were Mike Shumard, handling the “fund a need” portion of the program. Generous sponsors underwrote an opportunity drawing with prizes provided by South Coast Plaza, the Los Angeles Angels, Oak Grill, Yves Saint Laurent, The Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel and dermatologist Anne Marie McNeill.

To learn more about the Orangewood Foundation and the 44 Women for Orangewood Auxiliary, visit

B.W. COOK is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.