The Crowd: Girls Inc. supporters gather at Pelican Hill

Event honoree Lana Sills, Girls Inc. of Orange County CEO Lucy Santana and celebrity emcee Jamie Gwen attend the 2019 Girls Inc. event at Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Coast.
(Kimberly April Photography)

It is a generally accepted proposition that education is a universal path out of poverty. Like most challenges in life, getting that education, especially when circumstances are harsh, is easier said than done. For young men and women lacking family support, the task may seem insurmountable.

Yet there are exceptions, breakthroughs if you like, and fortunately more under-served youth are finding a way up via educational opportunities. In most cases, this takes government support, private sector support, or both.

An example of that private sector support in Orange County can be found in the mission of Girls Inc. The non-profit’s motto is to “inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold.”

The O.C. chapter serves some 4,000 girls each year, providing year-round programs with emphasis on STEM curriculum in education, financial literacy, healthy body image, tools for successful relationships and meeting college and career goals.


Ultimately this mentoring is aimed at “equipping girls to navigate gender and face social and economic barriers in order for them to grow into healthy, educated, independent adults.”

To this end, Girls Inc. sponsored its fall Champions For Girls luncheon at Pelican Hill Resort, Newport Coast, raising an impressive $201,000, surpassing its high-water mark, $175,000. All funds raised will benefit the College Bound Program.

Lucy Santana, chief executive of Girls Inc. Orange County, welcomed the sold-out crowd that had come to pay homage to several stand-out members of the organization at the fourth-annual gathering. Taking a bow were Angelica Suarez, of Orange Coast College, a 20-year dedicated advocate of Girls Inc. programs; Lana Sills, cookbook author, recipe developer and dining columnist for Bay Window Magazine; and Sills’ daughter, chef Jamie Gwen, nationally syndicated food writer and radio personality. Gwen also served as emcee of the annual luncheon.

Sponsored by Barbara Bowman and Sam Dawson, the Gena and Nicholas Reed Foundation, The Miller Foundation, Union Bank and Verizon, the event brought together longtime Girls Inc. advocates, including Judy Slutzky, Nancy Sheffner, Linda Schulein, Sherry and Daryl Deke, and Sue and Ralph Stern, who were recently honored with the National Philanthropy Day awards in part for their service to Girls Inc.


Also in the Pelican Hill crowd were Amy Amirani, Janet Dryden, Milly Dutton, Erika Lowe, Janet Michels, Cheryl and Jeff Osborn and Debra Richardson.

Holiday luncheon brings in $860,000 for KidWorks

Organizers call it the Foundation for Success Luncheon. The 2019 event sponsored by KidWorks attracted a crowd of 450 donors joining forces at the Doubletree Hotel, Santa Ana, for a record-breaking rally with significant funds earmarked for KidWorks afterschool education and leadership development programs.

Held on Nov. 7, this once-a-year gathering raises the majority of the after-school program budget held at KidWorks’ Dan Donahue Center, named in honor of the late real estate developer who passionately believed in education as the path out of poverty for disadvantaged youth. The extended Donahue family has been the mainstay support of KidWorks for decades.

In recognition of the Donahue involvement, KidWorks created the annual Dan Donahue Leadership Award. The 2019 honors were bestowed upon supporters Heidi and Ruben Mendoza, receiving a standing ovation at the luncheon.

“Ruben was instrumental in the building of the original Dan Donahue Center and has been actively involved in the recent major expansion of that facility,” KidWorks Executive Director David Benavides said.

“Both Heidi and I believe that all kids should have the educational opportunities to pursue their God-given potential,” Ruben Mendoza responded. “KidWorks is a beacon of hope in the community. The combination of academic support coupled with character and spiritual development is a unique model that really works.”

Fronting the luncheon event was speaker Ann Meyers Drysdale, an Olympian and women’s basketball hall-of-famer. Major sponsors in the crowd included Kevin and Devon Martin of Balboa Bay Resort and Balboa Bay Club, Gregory and Stacy Brown, the Brown Family Charitable Fund, Caribou Industries, Donahue Schriber, Bank of America, American Career College, West Coast University, The Donahue Familyand the Mendozas.

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