"Paradise Found" almost turned into "Paradise Lost" on Saturday night when a mean breeze began stirring up the silk orchids that bloomed on reception tables at South County Community Clinic's annual dinner-dance.
As the crowd trotted into Le Meridien across a small red carpet, clouds the color of gunmetal loomed above the birds of paradise, the caged toucans and the tiny rock pond filled with colorful fish.
But once guests--many with furs tossed over their strapless, springtime dresses--were inside, they warmed up over cocktails in the Newport Beach hotel's lushly decorated foyer, and it was "Paradise Found" again.
Such a heavenly crowd. The clinic's auxiliary, sponsors of the gala, is made up of some of Orange County's loveliest up-and-coming society types.
Take Gaye Birtcher, auxiliary founder and president. The statuesque blonde, who three years ago made a "five-year commitment" to the clinic, was a Marilyn Monroe look-alike with her tousled pineapple hair and movie-star smile.
"I feel like a 5-year-old in this," Birtcher said, gazing down at her polka-dotted pouf dress. Birtcher is married to mega-real estate developer Art Birtcher, clinic board president. (During dinner, the couple held court at their table for 16, plopped smack dab in the middle of the ballroom. "I put all of our friends together because I just didn't know how to split them up," said Gaye, flashing that smile. Among guests at the Birtcher table were Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley and his wife, Emma Jane.)
And take gala co-chairwoman Sherry Van Meter, an original member of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club. Pert and bubbly, Van Meter said her stunning diamond pendant--in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head--was a gift from her husband, Richard, the day the original Mickey Mouse Club show went on the Disney Channel.
Van Meter, who still travels on behalf of Disney, said she volunteers for the auxiliary because she has the "best of both worlds."
"I do most of my Disney work on weekends, and my ego gets fulfilled. And then, during the week, it's back to reality with car pools and Girl Scouts. This may sound like a cliche, but I really feel that I've received so much that I want to do something, help out."
The San Juan Capistrano clinic is dedicated to providing health and human services for underprivileged families of south Orange County.
"We serve the medically indigent," said Boetta Saunders, the clinic's director of health services, "those who don't have enough money to pay up front for health care. Most doctors require cash up front. But most of our people are living from day to day. Many come from the service industries. They work at fast-food restaurants or they're gardeners. They have no insurance.
"The clinic has even begun to see pockets of people coming from the Mission Viejo area . . . from the less expensive homes there. They bought the 'California Promise' and then, for some reason--maybe mom lost her job--their income became limited. They're overextended."
And the clinic, established in 1982, steps in to provide health care with payment on a sliding scale. No one is turned away for lack of funds. "About 70% of our patients are families," Saunders said, adding that Gaye Birtcher is the moving force behind clinic fund-raising. "She's outstanding. Incredible. Very energetic and caring. She has the clinic at heart."
Auxiliary member Karen Voss remembered that only two years ago the auxiliary consisted of 10 members. "And the night of our dinner-dance we were still running around at 5 o'clock, hiding things under tables and putting up decorations. "Now there are about 50 of us. And by 10 this morning, everything was in place."
And by midnight, the auxiliary's dinner-dance and auction had raised net proceeds of $117,000, making its total donations to the clinic a whopping $367,000.
Now that's paradise found.