More than 200 supporters of the Blind Children's Learning Center attended an Oz-themed benefit Saturday at the Newporter Resort, raising an estimated $25,000 for the Santa Ana facility and its outreach programs.
Dubbed "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," the $75-per-person party included a cocktail-hour browse around silent auction tables, dinner of chicken and crab ("The best 'chicken surprise' ever," raved one guest), and a frenzied live auction that accounted for nearly half the net proceeds--an amazing feat considering the not-so-exotic items on the block.
For example, a "Bull Durham" movie poster and a baseball autographed by it star, Kevin Costner, went for $650. The bid on two plane tickets to San Francisco and one night at the Fairmont Hotel zoomed to $1,350.
Credit for guests' giddy bidding belongs in equal parts to auctioneer Rick O'Fallon and cheerleader/badgerer Tom Pavlik. While O'Fallon motor-mouthed into the mike, Pavlik paced and skidded around the circular dance floor--pointing, begging, cajoling and occasionally diving in among the tables to whisper mysterious messages into select guest's ears.
Needless to say, things got a little confusing. Steve Hamerslag thought he had nailed down four tickets to an Angels game (seats right next to Gene Autry) when Pavlik tossed an Angels' autographed baseball to him. Imagine Hamerslag's dismay to hear the bidding keep on going up to $1,200 as he and his wife Jeannie listened in disbelief.
"I'm still not sure what happened," Hamerslag admitted, laughing, as the bidding, accompanied by whoops and shouts, moved to other items. "I thought I was in there. I had the ball and everything!"
Then there were Robert and Annette McKnight, who got so excited bidding on a dinner for six in an Irvine Cove home that they actually bid against one another. And still lost out.
"I always knew we couldn't agree on anything," joked Robert. "This proves it."
The Blind Children's Learning Center offers services for children with varying degrees of visual impairment, executive director Ronnie Passolt said, including an in-home infant program, a preschool for children aged 6 months to 6 years, and an outreach program for students through high school. Together, the programs serve nearly 100 local children, she said.
While the annual benefit, hosted by members of the Lollipop Guild support group, contributes only about 5% of the center's yearly budget, Passolt said the party "helps us make friends, which helps us get the word out."
She noted that in child development, most of the formative experiences occur between infancy and the age of 5. "We don't want to miss any kids. If they're out there and they need help, we want their parents to know about us."