It was like Academy Award night for doers of good works.
The big question: Whose name was on the check for $25,000?
Ken Worthen, president of the Greater Van Nuys Area Chamber of Commerce, presided over a lunch Friday, ready to announce which of the 45 civic groups had won a contest sponsored by ITT Corp. for "Best Civic Idea."
The contestants, primarily nonprofit community groups, had each submitted an idea--actually a detailed outline of what they would do with such a sum--to a panel of five judges, headed by Worthen.
The 91 representatives of the competing groups who attended the awards lunch at the Airtel Plaza Hotel had to wait through cocktails and three courses before the winner was announced. There was joviality in the air, but the prospect of a $25,000 grant kept things tense.
"We were all getting ulcers," one contestant said.
Each of the 45 ideas rang of good will, community spirit or help for the needy, Worthen said.
There were competing proposals from the YWCA North Valley Center, out to help latchkey children, and the West Valley Family YMCA, which wants to improve youth health education; four different proposals for preventing drug abuse; proposals to help widows and abused children. The American Legion wanted to promote patriotism.
"You have no idea how difficult it was to narrow it down to one," Worthen said, as 91 sets of eyes focused hungrily on the podium.
A Playful Comparison of Ideas
At one table, Diana Davies, representing the Back Alley Theatre, and Fred Halper of Toastmasters International playfully compared the relative merits of their groups' projects.
The theatrical troupe wanted the money to buy the old Post Office building on Sylvan Street and convert it into a theater. District 52 of Toastmasters proposed to train youths in communications skills, sponsor a contest and provide a college grant.
"Everyone deserves it," one contestant said.
"That's why, if you win, don't expect a big round of applause," a representative of the San Fernando Valley Bar Assn. responded with a nervous chuckle. The Bar association was seeking funds for a law center for poor families.
When time for the announcement finally came, Worthen turned the proceedings over to the award-giver, ITT. Jim Howard, president of one of the company's local subsidiaries, ITT Gilfillan, quickly broke the suspense and announced that Project HEAVY had won.
The round of applause was big.
The proposal by Project HEAVY / San Fernando Valley was to fund an acronym within an acronym: the Youth STAR program.
HEAVY stands for Human Efforts Aimed at Vitalizing Youth. STAR stands for Service, Training, Achievement and Responsibility, said Michael Agopian, executive director of the project, who received a yard-long mock-up of the $25,000 check.
The organization, which has focused on rehabilitating juvenile delinquents, will now try some preventive medicine, he said.
Aim Is to 'Turn Off the Faucet'
Most of the $25,000 will provide the salary for a youth counselor who will meet each week with one class each at Van Nuys High School and Van Nuys and Madison junior highs, Agopian said. The specialist will introduce students to the local business community, teach them how to get along with other people and work on discipline problems.
The idea is to "turn off the faucet" of young people flowing into the juvenile justice system, he said.
This is the 16th civic ideas contest that ITT has held in the United States since 1981 as a response to cutbacks in federal funding, a company spokesman said.