Virgen's View: Southern Nights a hit for NHHS

What do you think of when you hear "Newport Beach"?

Do you think of luxury cars or high-priced yachts?

Does this part of Orange County seem plastic or fake to you?

It doesn't to Jen Blanchfield, and to the people who attended Southern Nights, a fundraiser that took place at the Balboa Bay Resort Feb. 28.

The money raised went to the Newport Harbor Educational Foundation, a program that benefits Newport Harbor High School students.

Blanchfield, who has a daughter, Jordan, at the school, chaired the event.

She told me about how sometimes Newport Beach can be perceived as a place of excess, but to those who live there, especially the families, the city is a tight-knit community filled with many people who care for each other.

When their favorite high school needs help, they rally for the students and the teachers who guide them through four important years.

Even the principal is around to help.

Harbor Principal Sean Boulton offered himself up as one of the auction items.

He's set to be a personal chef and make tacos for a Harbor family that paid $1,700 for his culinary services. It was one of the highest bids of the night.

Boulton helped direct a higher bid, as he asked those in attendance to help Harbor gain an electronic marquee. Did you know the school doesn't have one?

Many parts of the school are old school. But Boulton and others want a new electronic marquee.

Bids came in from across the room, as 40 people agreed to donate $200 each. That's eight grand.

"There are a lot of things happening at this school," Boulton said to the 338 in attendance. "It's a magical place. It's completely incredible."

Tickets to a Ducks hockey game went for $1,400. Someone bought a TK Burger catering stop from its truck for $1,300.

A private boat party for 25 to watch the Christmas Boat Parade garnered $1,100. And a VIP tour of the New York Stock Exchange for six took in $1,000.

Attendees, who each paid $125 for admission, were treated with music from the Tijuana Dogs, one of my favorite local bands, plus food and drinks.

The net profit from the event was about $83,000 for the foundation.

"We are so very thankful for the community's generous support of Newport Harbor High students," Diana Long, the foundation's executive director, said in an email.

Since 1995, the foundation has raised more than $11.5 million, according to information Long provided.

The money helps programs such as free tutoring, college counseling, athletic training, career mentoring and a full-time nurse's aide. The programs would be absent if it wasn't for the fundraising.

Families like the Conants remain grateful for the foundation.

David and Cassie Conant wanted to help at Southern Nights. They've had four children attend Harbor, including their youngest, Emily, who played field hockey for the Sailors with Jordan Blanchfield in the fall.

David and Cassie started a similar foundation at Mariners Elementary School and watched the good that can come from it. They are one of many families who wanted to help when their children went to Mariners, then to Ensign Intermediate School and to finish at Harbor.

"The state has cut so many valuable programs," David Conant said. "And the only way you can get them back is for the people to fund them."

The programs allow the students to excel. Most of the community doesn't want to lose students to private schools.

They want the students to remain at Harbor and shine in academics, athletics and other activities.

A great source of pride and confidence can come from that. An example of this was the recent announcement of the Harbor valedictorians — a much talked-about topic at Southern Nights.

The 2014 valedictorians are Tyler Ashoff, Brandt Bucher, John Bruscia, Natalie Cernius, Colin Duffy, Montgomery Faigen, Savannah Fausto, Hannah Felfe, Mark Grace, Joey Hopf, Elizabeth Muenchow, Emily Parsons, Wyatt Robertson and John Storch.

Congratulations to the students and to the community.

STEVE VIRGEN is sports editor of the Daily Pilot, Huntington Beach Independent and Coastline Pilot.

[For the record, 11:06 a.m. March 21: An earlier version of this column had the incorrect name for valedictorian Brandt Bucher. Also, it should be noted that Debby Wiesner was co-chair of Southern Nights and was very instrumental in planning the Newport Harbor Educational Foundation event, as was her husband, Alan.]

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