Spring gala guests get a taste of the Big Easy

The La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation raised about $500,000 while entertaining hundreds of guests Saturday at its annual spring gala.

Community supporters turned out in force at the event, held at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena. There they bid on auction items that included everything from gardening help and floor seats to a Justin Timberlake concert, tickets to the Ellen Degeneres Show and iTunes gift cards. Sold out more than a week ahead of time, the event, themed “The Big Easy,” was complete with New Orleans-style band and a few funky outfits.

“This is a big night for us; it’s our biggest fundraising event of the year,” said Craig Mazin, president of the foundation. “This year we are looking to raise a very significant portion of the total money that we raise for our school district.”

Last year, the foundation raised a total of $2.25 million with several fundraisers, including the spring gala. The money the organization raises each year is given to the La Cañada Unified School District to maintain educational programs.

“Tonight there is a dual purpose: we want to raise a lot of money, but we also want all of our supporters to celebrate themselves and everything they’ve achieved and accomplished for the schools,” Mazin said.

Former school board member Scott Tracy was recognized with the Spirit of Outstanding Service Award.

“Prior awardees have made some really significant contributions to the schools and the community — so it’s a very appreciated honor, it’s really significant,” Tracy said. “It’s a nice way to say ‘thank you’ and I appreciate it.”

For the first year, the foundation gave a Partner in Excellence Award to Capital Group for its support of the local public schools. La Cañadan Gene Stein accepted the honor.

Deborah Weirick, in her second year as the foundation’s executive director, noted an increase in attendance over previous years, which resulted in a 10% boost in revenue from the event.

“I just think it’s the community being aware of the need,” Weirick said. “I think the economy is better and people are happy to share when they are secure. We definitely saw a slow recovery in attendance every year since 2008.”

The gala was organized by a team of people, all on a volunteer basis — a group that Mazin praised.

“We have a fantastic gala committee, headed by Stephanie Fossan and Kirsten Newquist. They work with their Gala team, and they put the whole thing together — it’s entirely a volunteer effort,” Mazin said. He added that this month’s successful passage of a parcel tax, which will bring needed dollars to the school district, gave a distinctive upbeat feeling to the event.

“I think this is more of a joyous celebration than we’ve even had before, because we passed Measure LC,” he said. “I think that there is a new spirit of optimism. We’ve spent the last five years on a rescue mission, we think the next five years will be more of a renaissance — we’re not just trying to keep our schools as good as they were, we now feel we have an opportunity to make them even better than they are.”


Michael Bruer is a freelance writer.


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