Column: The Crowd: Giving thanks for O.C. charities that serve community needs


On this Thanksgiving weekend, as we fortunate ones join with family and friends, remember, there are some 300,000 fellow citizens in our backyard going hungry on any given night.

Thanksgiving means little to a single mother living in a broken-down car with two kids sleeping in the back seat.

Thanksgiving is not celebrated with joy by men wandering back alleys, living lives destroyed by substance abuse and misfortune of all variety.


Despite such heartaches, which can seem unsurmountable, there are other O.C. citizens, down on their luck, who do celebrate Thanksgiving with a sense of hope.

They are the fortunate ones who have been able to secure assistance from a variety of humanitarian organizations making a difference, one day, one person at a time. And this is at the core of the meaning of this all-American celebration.

So, on this holiday weekend, we shall pay tribute to and give thanks to several O.C. nonprofits dedicated to lifting those suffering out of dire circumstances and providing both hope and a path to a better life.

Ask yourself: “What it would be like to lose your home? Where would you go? What if you had children to care for?”

Serving People In Need, the Costa Mesa-based nonprofit agency serving the housing needs of the working poor and homeless families in the region for more than 30 years, celebrated its 2017 annual dinner event at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach.

The fall event brought together some 200 dedicated SPINers for a seasonal harvest wine experience catered with perfection by Big Canyon culinary staff.

The crowd, led by SPIN executive director Jean Wegener and development director Kim Frazier, is more like a large family than simply a charitable group.

The majority of guests have been supporting SPIN for years; among them Richard and Kim Crawford, Frank and Peggy Listi, Al and Susan DiGrassi, Wayne and MaryLou Shattuck and Ed and Melanie Fitch.

The major sponsor of the 2017 event was Lugano Diamonds, represented at the affair by Bill Peters.

Lugano generously donated diamond and ruby earrings valued at $10,000 as an opportunity prize. SPIN donors checking out the jewelry and enjoying signature rose cocktail on the Big Canyon Terrace were SPIN board member Joe Heffington and wife Heidi, donors Tristine and Kevin Smith, Bruce and Kate Grant, Tami Cluck, Kedric Francis, Jamie Gwen, Mike and Trisa Kelleher and devoted SPIN supporters Richard and Karen Nichols.

In 2016, SPIN helped 407 individuals — 153 adults and 254 children — in their housing program.

“The need is so great, this year we hope to help more in 2017,” Wegener said. “A good goal would be 450 families with children assisted in 2017.”

It comes down to money. No surprise. Seventy-five percent of SPIN’s funding comes from multiple grants and 25% from community fundraising.

SPIN is one of the first agencies in the O.C. to be awarded Platinum Status with Guidestar, a national ranking platform evaluating the success of nonprofit agencies.

More than 90% of every dollar donated goes directly to client services and according to an independent study of O.C.’s nonprofits, 100% of families served by SPIN were successfully transitioned into permanent housing.

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KidWorks, an Orange County educational program with the goal of providing under privileged Hispanic youth with the tools needed to succeed in school and move up and on into college, hosted its 11th annual Foundation for Success luncheon Nov. 2 at Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, Santa Ana.

At the helm of the luncheon event, attended by hundreds of O.C. leaders, was David Pyle, founder and CEO of American Career College.

Pyle was joined by Kevin and Devon Martin of Balboa Bay Resort and Balboa Bay Club, Steven Craig of Craig Realty Group, Michael Harrah of Caribou Industries, and Ruben and Heidi Mendoza raising significant funds for the programs offered to young students ranging in age from preschool through college.

The KidWorks luncheon traditionally has an inspirational speaker at its center.

This year, Chad Williams, author of book “SEAL of God” addressed the crowd sharing his experience as a deployed Navy Seal in teams One and Seven. Williams’ chilly account of facing enemy odds and surviving had his audience silent.

In the crowd were KidWorks advocates Greg and Stacey Brown, Bruce Pasqua, Stuart Kane, Scott Pollard, Diane and Jim Connelly, and members of both the Donahue and Schrieber families — mainstay supporters of KidWorks.

Orangewood Foundation, one of O.C.’s most respected charitable arms, celebrated the success of a number of former foster youth — now college grad students — completing their study with support from local philanthropists through Orangewood programs.

Balboa Island resident and passionate activist supporting foster youth, Shirley Pepys opened her waterfront estate for a beach barbecue welcoming students from Orangewood’s Advanced Studies Program.

Costa Mesa’s Beach Pit BBQ catered the party for some 30 grad students and their guests.

Pepys joined her daughter Renee Pepys Lowe and close friend Dan Houck in launching the Advanced Studies Program in 2009.

They since have been joined by Sandra Davis and other generous patrons continuing the program.

Over nine years, 106 scholarships totaling $736,000 have been granted to 53 former foster youth.

That’s what can be called a true Thanksgiving celebration.

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