The Crowd: 29 young women enter ranks of charity league debs


As 2016 fades into memory and a new year dawns, a celebrated rite of passage is chronicled for a class of young women indoctrinated into a model of lifetime community service.

The Newport chapter of National Charity League Inc. graduated 29 young women as debutantes for 2016 during its 56th debutante ball.

The holiday ball unfolded at Hotel Irvine as some 500 guests in black tie converged, upholding a half-century tradition. Ball director Kelly Stewart and assistant director Shelly Rankin joined the league’s Newport chapter president, Portia Fischer, in welcoming many generations of family members arriving for an evening of waltzing to the music of The Jay Sterling Orchestra. And thus memories were made for young ladies transitioning from high school to college life and adulthood.

The evening was especially poignant for Fischer, who joined husband Alvin Fischer III in witnessing the debut of their daughter Janey among the grads.

The debs tradition has evolved from a purely social and largely exclusive practice into a more community-service-oriented program. The league program consists of a rather serious six-year schedule beginning in the 7th grade and following through high school.

Some 30 local nonprofits are supported through the program, assisting a diverse spectrum of need. It is estimated that the girls donate a cumulative 10,000 hours of service, with each student required to commit to a schedule each year.

In addition to the aspect of service, the program stresses the importance of academic achievement and participation in athletic endeavors and other school-oriented leadership avenues, such as student council.

The 2016 class of league debs boasts AP scholars, honor roll students, collegiate athletes and scholarship recipients. Many of the girls graduated with a 4.0 and greater grade point average and are now attending such universities as Harvard, Notre Dame, USC, Penn, Stanford, Berkeley and more.

In grand formal style, the Saturday evening event began with a cocktail reception followed by the formal presentation of the debutants parading down the stairs to the dance floor on the arms of fathers or other escorts. Each young lady took her St. James Bow, and the music of Sterling’s waltz swept the girls and their dads onto the dance floor. A multi-course dinner by candlelight followed as families table-hopped and savored the moment with their daughters’ coming of age.

Congratulations to the 2016 National Charity League debutants. They are Alyssa Anderson, Baylee Bakkila, Scarlett Brach, Lauren Castleton, Kabele Cook, Olivia Daboub, Caroline Davin, Peyton Espley-Jones, Janey Fischer, Kelly Griffin, Gracie Hoffman, Abigail Klein, Emily Labbé, Madeline Lefebvre, Samantha Leonard, Jacqueline LeVecke, Katherine Madigan, Nicole Matar, Sophia Mossman, Claire Olmstead, Darby O’Neil, Natalie Queathem, Bonnie Robertson, Claire Robertson, Emma Robertson, Bridgett Storm, Emily Vaughan, Amanda Walker and Jessica Ward.

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