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Cause and Effect

O.C. is known for countless things-affluence chief among them. And for many, giving back isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s a way of life. Meet some of the region’s most giving philanthropists and the events that bring heart to the social side of charity.

Courtney Wittkop and Kathryn Grant at CASA O.C.’s Holiday Luncheon

Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Candlelight Concert

Bruno Serato

Lil Spitzer

Christina Lyon

Kobe Bryant

Simara Nahabedian’

Gala of the Season: Shining Stars
Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Candlelight Concert sells out months before the event and is always a breathtaking affair with top-notch entertainment, and each gala nets about $1.5 million ($30 million since its inception) for music education. This year’s 40th anniversary celebration on Dec. 6 is sure to be another stellar event, with dinner, dancing and entertainment by The Beach Boys. Other local galas of note: Beckstrand Cancer Association’s Diamond & Pearl Ball, a $1,000-per-person soiree that just marked its 10th year (Alanis Morissette performed) and nets an average of $1 million-plus in one evening (a record $1.8 million was raised this year); and South Coast Repertory’s gala celebrating its 50th season in September garnered more than $1 million for the first time, with an additional $2 million from Julianne and George Argyros and the Argyros Family Foundation.

The Cost of Giving: Celebrate!
From the ritziest galas to fun, down-home activities, there’s an event for everyone who wants to help a good cause. On one end of the spectrum, Chapman University’s American Celebration Gala Night is among the most expensive. At $2,000 a person, it raises about $2 million for scholarships, with a spectacular Broadway-style show starring the talented students from the College of Performing Arts, followed by dinner and dancing. At the other end, Share Our Selves’ Wild & Crazy Taco Night ranks among the most popular foodie events, drawing participation from the area’s finest chefs. Tickets start at $70, and the bash nets about $70,000 in one night to help feed the hungry.

Christina Lyon
Dancing is Christina Lyon’s passion-and her cause. At 12, she began studying ballet with her beloved teacher and mentor, Yvonne Mounsey (former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet). Now, after a career with New York’s American Ballet Theatre and London’s English National Ballet, she’s come full circle and taken on the role of teacher and mentor to students in California, New York, London and Moscow. “Giving back was something my ballet teacher instilled in me,” Lyon says. “She felt that whatever direction my career took, it was imperative for me to come back to share those experiences with others. You see a lot of talent, but they need a little bit extra, and I hope to cultivate that. I try to bring out the best in the artists.”

When she’s not teaching or competing (she holds the title of World Professional/Amateur Champion in International Latin Ballroom), she’s working to bring attention to the dance world, organizing events such as Gala de Danza in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a sold-out event she founded and directed that attracted international artists from the Bolshoi, American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet, among other troupes. Held this past June, Gala de Danza’s mission was to bring arts and culture to the community, and to benefit Danza Tellez, a local ballet school where Lyon periodically teaches. The next gala is set for July 18-20. She’s actively involved in a number of other organizations, as well, including Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Southland Ballet Academy, The Barak Ballet in L.A., American Ballet Theatre and Youth America Grand Prix international student ballet competition. She’ll co-host its gala this spring in New York at Lincoln Center. “It’s great to draw awareness and get people involved,” she says. “If I can bring people there, that’s what makes me happy because it helps these organizations and brings more attention to the arts.”

Bruno Serato
It’s a memory that moved celebrated Orange County chef Bruno Serato to action. He was touring the Boys and Girls Clubs of Anaheim with his mother, Caterina, in 2005 and noticed a boy gobbling down a bag of potato chips for dinner. She turned to him and said, “You have to help feed these children.” That night, Serato prepared pasta meals for more than 70 children who likely would have gone hungry. Serato, who owns Anaheim White House Restaurant, went on to found the nonprofit Caterina’s Club and now feeds 500 children (most of whom live in motels) each day. He’s now expanding Caterina’s Club to his homeland of Italy, joining with longtime friend Fulvio Soave to open an affiliate-Mamma Anna’s, in honor of Soave’s mother-in San Bonifacio, Verona. Serato plans to take the model to Chicago, New York, Miami and Dallas. His heroic efforts don’t end there. Serato—who has been named a CNN Hero and been knighted by the Italian Republic—has pledged to host a free, 100-person fundraising lunch each Wednesday at the restaurant through 2016. He originally planned to only donate 12 lunches (once a month for a year), but after reading the applications he declared them all winners. “It touched my heart,” he says. “I had to say yes to all of them.” In addition, Serato’s assisting the families of the children he feeds, helping them transition out of motel rooms and into permanent housing. He’s raised $250,000 for that effort through donations to his foundation and events. “My hope is to inspire all the people to follow in my footsteps,” he says. “I would like to see it in every city in the country, so there are no starving children anywhere.”

Cause Celeb: Let's Pretend
Keep your eyes peeled during your next visit to Irvine’s Pretend City Children’s Museum and you just might see the stars come out. Gwen Stefani and Heidi Klum have brought their children out to the nonprofit educational facility to role play in its miniature community featuring more than 15 permanent exhibits, ranging from an art studio to a restaurant. And local NBA star Kobe Bryant and his family have been steady supporters, and were special honorees at its grand opening in the summer of 2009.

Look Forward: Save the Dates
There’s a plethora of fabulous fundraisers planned for this holiday season. Among the can’t-miss soirees. … Jack & Jill Guild’s annual Holiday Home Tour & Boutique ($45, jackandjillguild.org) opens Nov. 22. Benefiting CHOC, it will showcase four homes in the North Tustin area, each decorated to celebrate the holidays. … Vanguard University’s 200-member choir and orchestra take the stage in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on Dec. 3 for its annual Christmas Fantasia celebration ($25, scfta.org). ... Hoag Hospital Foundation’s annual Christmas Carol Ball ($552, christmascarolball.org) comes to The St. Regis Monarch Beach on Dec. 7. ... And on Dec. 22, Pacific Chorale will celebrate the holidays with its largest single annual fundraiser of the year—a traditional Dickens-style feast, with carolers and a 12 Days of Christmas singing competition ($275, pacificchorale.org) at The Westin South
Coast Plaza.

Number Crunch: 95%
That’s the approximate percentage of annual revenue that The Diamond & Pearl Ball raises for Beckstrand Cancer Association. Last year’s proceeds were even higher, with $1.34 million raised from the gala. Total revenue in 2012 was $1.46 million, with the remainder of funds coming from grants, employee contribution programs (corporate giving), planned gifts and third-party events for which Beckstrand is named as the benefiting charity. But 2013 is poised to be a record-breaker. A whopping $1.8 million was raised from this year’s gala alone!

Liz Spitzer
Newport Beach’s Lil Spitzer sure knows how to throw a party! For the past 10 years, she’s orchestrated The Diamond & Pearl Ball, and it’s become known as one of SoCal’s best—and biggest—fundraising galas of the year. Proceeds from the posh, black-tie affair help Beckstrand Cancer Association provide 400 cancer patients and their families with necessities such as rent and mortgage, food and medical co-payments. “When guests come to the ball, they expect to get the best, and they get it,” says Spitzer, Beckstrand’s CEO and president. “It’s a fundraiser, but at the same time, it has turned into so much more than that. ... It’s a darn fun party.” Sponsors include luxury brands Lugano Diamonds and Neiman Marcus, Fashion Island, in addition to the individual supporters. Celebrity guests have included CSI Miami actress and national spokeswoman Eva La Rue and her husband, actor Gilles Marini; Teri Hatcher; and Ryan O’Neal. Patients also are invited, so guests get to see where their dollars are going. The ball’s 10-year anniversary celebration took place in early October at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel-an invitation-only soiree for 300 that honored longtime O.C. supporters Mike and Jan Salta and featured fine dining, wine, one-of-a-kind auction items and a performance by singer Alanis Morissette. But this kind of success isn’t achieved overnight. After taking the helm at Beckstrand in 2003, Spitzer moved the nonprofit from Long Beach to O.C. (so she could cultivate her relationships here) and propelled the association to the forefront of the local charity scene with The Diamond & Pearl Ball. “Orange County is a dynamic place-the residents are very philanthropic. And we know they research the organizations they align themselves with,” she says. “We invite that because when they are introduced to us and dig deep to support us, they know we represent an exceptional nonprofit, and we’re making a difference in the local cancer community doing something no one else does.”

Personal Shopper: Style Savvy 
Simara Nahabedian’s
fashion awakening came at age 5. That’s when she realized apparel didn’t just magically appear in stores. “My older sister brought home some fabric to make herself some clothes,” she says. “Once I realized someone could design and create their own clothes, I was hooked.” Fast-forward to today, and the personal stylist (who honed her skills at Neiman Marcus, Fashion Island) is dressing some of Orange County’s top socialites. “My clients trust me to style them for their most important events and parties,” she says. “They always have a fabulous gala or luncheon to go to, like Beckstrand Cancer Association’s annual Diamond & Pearl Ball—where a tux and a long gown is a must—or the Harvesters Luncheon and Fashion benefit for the Second Harvest Food Bank, where you won’t see a better-dressed crowd in O.C.” She also produces and stages events for good causes. In June, she organized a high-end custom menswear fashion show for Mark Pomerantz at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in Newport Beach that raised funds for Beckstrand. “My plate is always a bit too full, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Nahabedian says. “After all, there is no rest in fashion.”

Proper Attire: In the Closet
If you characterize Orange County’s signature style in just two words, they’d be “put together,” says Simara Nahabedian. You see the look every day at benefit luncheons and galas-elegant, well-dressed women wearing just the right accessories. Here, Nahabedian offers a list of wardrobe essentials that every busy socialite must have in
her closet.

For a bag to carry you from a luncheon to a gala, you need a medium-size black or metallic clutch.

A slim menswear-inspired pant can be dressed up or down with just the right top, jacket or heels.

Every woman should have a dynamite pair of nude-colored pumps-they’re sexy and go with almost everything.

Never underestimate the versatility of a little black dress.

It’s smart to have a simple gown that can be restyled at a moment’s notice.

For fancier fetes, you need a bold, metallic heel (like these from Jimmy Choo) to pop with your jewelry.