Laguna Beach Community Clinic supporters met the $10,000 challenge issued by resident Ron Beasley and clinic President Dr. Pam Lawrence at the annual Cinco de Mayo fundraiser.
Lawrence and Beasley kicked in $5,000 each, and guests responded with donations of $8,000 at the event, followed by email pledges and snail mail checks for an estimated total of $60,000, according to Monica Prado, clinic development director.
Mayor Jane Egly was the first to respond to the challenge. On behalf of herself and her husband, Paul, Egly donated the first $100 and offered her own challenge to the guests at the event.
"If this catches another $100 from you, we are throwing in another $100 and if it attracts another $100, we will throw in a third $100, which does not want to be lonely," Egly said.
Donations are needed to overcome the shortfall facing the clinic due to decreases in cigarette and tobacco taxes and the erosion of government programs at a time when more people than ever need affordable medical care, Lawrence said.
The decreased funding isn't just the clinic's problem; it is everyone's problem, Egly said.
"We are a community that cares," she said. "We are a community that steps up and helps out. And because we care, we are here to help with dollars so the fabulous folks at the clinic can provide good health care to all.
"The clinic needs more help because of the recession, increase in need and less income. We have more folks — friends, family and neighbors — who have jobs or their jobs were cut way back or their health insurance benefit was dropped or it has become so expensive that they cannot pay the premiums."
Lawrence provided some alarming statistics on health care in California.
•In 1994, private insurance covered 70% of the working population. By 2010, the percentage had plummeted to 47%.
•UCLA Center for Health Policy Research revised the number of uninsured Californians upward from 6.9 million to 8.2 million.
•53% of uninsured children are members of families in which the head of the household has a full-time job.
Since 1970, the clinic has provided care for the uninsured and underinsured, regardless of the patient's ability to pay. Services originally were free; now most patients pay at least something for their care, Lawrence said.
"But the majority of health-care dollars come from other sources — philanthropy, grants and government reimbursement programs," Lawrence said.
Government sources are drying up, she said.
"The Healthy Families support program has been cut way back," Lawrence said. "CalOptima has new restrictions, presenting barrier to new enrollees, with single adults often ineligible. The Extended Access to Primary Care providing $140,000 annually to pay for the uninsured at the clinic is gone, and with it, every last dime of the support money."
Even the financial support for the clinic's highly regarded HIV program was reduced — from $241,000 to $181,000.
The most hurtful, though, was the $66,000 decrease in tobacco settlement revenue, Lawrence said.
"This money was directed to the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable in our community," she said.
Hence the matching grant.
"Tonight with your help, and by combining income from underwriting by the board, ticket sales ($120 a pop), and the sales of opportunity prizes , along with your checks for the matching grant, let's retire at least the $66,000 shortfall from the tobacco settlement funds."
The event was co-chaired by Bob and Susan Neeley, a clinic board member.
On the guest list: Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger, council members Elizabeth Pearson, Kelly Boyd and Toni Iseman, council candidate Bob Whalen, George Heed, Carol Reynolds, Ann McDonald, Mary Kate and Kirk Saunders, Betsy and Dr. Gary Jenkins, Madeleine Petersen, Pauline Walpin, architects Morris Skenderian and Lance Polster, Marv and Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson, and Johanna and Gene Felder.
Cinco de Mayo in the park
The South County Cross-Cultural Council's Cinco de Mayo celebration at Fred Lang Park was festive and meaningful.
Guests admired the tissue paper flowers created by La Playa students and the fresh floral centerpieces donated by the Flower Stand at the Lumberyard Mall. They ate food provided by Jesus' Taco Truck. Children frolicked and adults mingled, sipped on beer and were entertained by the music of the Ruben Alvarez Trio.
"I like the music," said Dora Castro, wife of Hugo Castro, who gets work at the Day Labor Hiring Center on Laguna Canyon Road. She is the mother of their two daughters, Miriam and Sendy.
The day labor center is funded by the council from an annual city grant and private donations.
Guests at the fundraiser also included council members, volunteers and graduates of La Playa, where English is taught as second language.
Among them: artist Lana Perry, who worked on the mosaic retaining at the park.
"It is a nice mix of people," said David Peck, council chairman.
The council evolved from the Cross Cultural Task Force established by the city to forge a bridge to the Hispanic community in Laguna at a time when tensions were strained by workers gathering on city streets aggressively seeking jobs.
"It started some living-room dialogues," Peck said.
La Playa was founded in lieu of a more elaborate program because money was tight, he said.
"We had some really good people like Alice Graves and Evelyn Munro," said Peck.
Both women are dead, but their efforts on behalf of what used to be the lower class have not been forgotten. The affordable housing on Glenneyre Street is named Alice's Place in her honor.
La Playa has benefited for the past 16 years from the skills of Sally Rapuano, who runs the place, Peck said.
Rapuano and La Playa graduate Irma Ronses, who has been in charge of the Day Labor Hiring Center for 12 years, were presented with Lladró sculptures in appreciation for their services.
Ronses has been honored by the American Assn. of University Women for her leadership.
The committee also sponsors the annual Thanksgiving Pot Luck Dinner.
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