When Cher Abellano made her final break from an abusive husband a few years ago, he told her she'd better get used to no longer having fine things or deluxe cars. Dog days were ahead, he said.
Guess again, big boy.
Abellano, now a vice president with Fullerton-based Shoe City, also has her own consulting business for employers, pulls down a six-figure income, and recently bought a new Lincoln. She took cash for her old one--$1,400--and promptly gave it to the Exchange Club Child Abuse Prevention Center of Orange County, with this proviso: that it go to just one woman.
"I wanted the money to help catapult someone into a better position," Abellano said. "I wanted it to really make a difference in someone's life.
The Exchange Club's executive director, Kathy McCarrell, and her staff carefully screened several applicants. They chose an Orange County woman named Donna, who has three children and an abusive husband who is in prison on a drug-related conviction.
Donna (I agreed not to use her last name) is making plans to go to nursing school. When she heard the money was available, she sat down and wrote a nine-page letter about why she'd be a deserving recipient. Her letter wowed everyone, including Abellano.
On Friday, Abellano and Donna met for the first time. McCarrell invited me to be there. It was great; their exchanges were warm and friendly. Not a lot was said between the two women while I was there, but I suspect they found much to talk about after they had more privacy.
Present at this gathering was Chante White, the volunteer for the Exchange Club who's been working with Donna since September.
"Donna is an extraordinarily strong woman," White said. "She has a great chance at making it."
Donna's first step toward recovering from a series of abusive relationships (her parents, two husbands) came when county Social Services workers stepped into her life. She told me she at first considered them an intrusion. She couldn't understand why she needed help in raising her children. But she wound up volunteering for more social service guidance and agreed to see an Exchange Club volunteer, which she had rejected earlier.
The Exchange Club sends people into the homes of victims of abuse to help teach them parenting skills, and provide them with a support system. Donna credits White with helping her straighten out her life. "Chante has rubbed off on me," she said.
When McCarrell asked Donna how she would specifically apply this $1,400 grant, I thought Donna gave a terrific answer:
"My children need to see me be a success. I feel like I've earned this money, because I wrote the letter and actually went after it. So this money is a success for me. I want to use it to follow through with another success, and keep that pattern of successes going."
No Showstopper: I've never understood those people who turn down invitations to the White House. What were they too busy doing that day, fighting a forest fire? You can bet if any such invitations come my way, I'm there.
But now we come to Steven Inskeep and Emily Kurashige, who are skipping a White House visit. OK, they've shown that some excuses are legitimate.
This year, the Clintons are putting special decorations on the Blue Room Christmas tree at the White House. All the tree ornaments will be related to "The Nutcracker," a favorite ballet of the first lady's. Irvine-based Ballet Pacifica, which performs "The Nutcracker" annually, was asked to contribute an ornament.
Inskeep, who is an artist as well as a dancer, designed it. And Kurashige did the jewel work for it.
Now the Clintons have sent four invitations to Ballet Pacifica to celebrate the decorating of the tree at the White House on Dec. 14. When I asked Ballet Pacifica spokeswoman Marica Pendjer about it, I assumed two of those invitations would be taken by the ornament's creators. First rule of this business: Never assume.
Inskeep can't go; he's performing that week in Ballet Pacifica's "Nutcracker" at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Kurashige can't go either. She's got two daughters in the same production; one of them plays a major role. Somewhere along the line these folks must have heard that "the show must go on."
Holiday & History: If you're looking for an early splash of Christmas, try Heritage Hill today. The four historic buildings at the county's first historical park (on Serrano Road in Lake Forest) will be decorated in Victorian Christmas style. Holiday singers will be on hand, along with some 50 antique and crafts booths, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The big night for Heritage Hill is next Saturday, Dec. 14, its annual candlelight tour. The pathways to the four buildings will be lighted with 1,000 luminaria (those are candles in sand-weighted bags, a Mexican tradition). Carolers will also stroll the grounds.
The four historic buildings include the 1863 adobe home from the original Serrano ranch, an 1890s church, a turn-of-the-century one-room school and a 1908 citrus ranch house.