Abused and neglected as a child, Mike McKenzie knows well the need for homeless shelters.
On Saturday night, he praised representatives of Orange County's building industry for helping provide more than two dozen havens for the homeless over the last decade.
"By participating in building shelters for less fortunate people, you are making a difference--not only for those who need help now . . . but for residents who will need help in the future," the 27-year-old McKenzie told guests Saturday night at the Rainbow of Hope Ball staged by HomeAid Orange County.
More than 300 people attended the 10th anniversary gala at the Four Seasons hotel in Newport Beach.
A graduate of Orangewood Children's Home, McKenzie seems worlds away from his troubled past. He has overcome the emotional problems that made him a dour, depressed youth. And he's working for the Orangewood Children's Foundation as a transitional housing coordinator.
If not for the haven of a temporary shelter, he might not have survived.
"During many difficult times . . . Orangewood provided me with a safe and supportive place to turn to," he told the crowd.
Orangewood is one of the local shelters that have benefited from HomeAid Orange County, a nonprofit organization that builds and renovates housing for the temporarily homeless.
Established in 1989 by the Orange County Chapter of the Building Industry Assn., HomeAid develops shelters by mobilizing subcontractors, suppliers and consultants to provide in-kind labor, materials and consulting services under the leadership of a captain, usually a home-builder.
Since it was founded, HomeAid has completed 28 shelter projects in cooperation with 1,500 companies and 25,000 volunteers. Together, they have provided more than 500,000 hours and $10 million in in-kind contributions to Orange County charities.
"HomeAid has been a great partner with us in our effort to provide more living space for the kids at Orangewood," said Gene Howard, executive director of the Orangewood Children's Foundation.
Orangewood--which can accommodate 200 children--is undergoing a $700,000 expansion to create an additional 8,000 square feet of living space. Architectural services are being provided by William Hezmalhalch of Irvine. Fieldstone Communities of Newport Beach is overseeing construction of the project.
"We went to HomeAid and asked them if they would partner with us in this effort because we'd heard so many wonderful things about what they've done for other charities in Orange County," Howard said. "They arranged a meeting at Orangewood where they brought in contractors and we told them our story. Now they're coming in with jobs that are anywhere from 10 to 50% below what it would normally cost."
During the festivities, which included a cocktail reception, formal dinner and dancing, HomeAid honored four volunteers with Rainbow of Hope awards: Robb Pigg of Shea Homes; Michael Schlesinger of Taylor-Woodrow Homes; Cheryl Wyland of Burrow Escrow; and Theresa Murphy of Precious Life Shelter.
Volunteering with HomeAid has been one of the great experiences of Schlesinger's life, he said during the cocktail reception.
"It's extremely gratifying because it takes the faceless problem of homelessness and engages you--helps you see that it could easily happen to you or me," he said. "And you learn that homelessness is not someone's fault. Usually a series of unforeseen events come together in a unique set of circumstances to cause someone to lose their home. It's a tragedy that could happen to anyone."
Bob Albertson of American Family Communities, who is a founder of HomeAid, told of its beginnings.
"We started all this with a few builders coming together and renovating an old Irvine ranch house for the homeless. It went so well we thought, 'Why not go out into the community and do this for others?'
"I never dreamed it would go this far," Albertson added. "We thought we had a good idea--and you know how it is with ideas--you have to go out, jump in, and prove them. But this has worked wonderfully."
Also among guests: HomeAid board president Stephen E. Hester of Trimark Pacific Homes; event co-chairpersons Ron Saienni (Biltmore Communities) and Donna Hahn (Hahn Communications); and Scott Larson, executive director of HomeAid.
Mark Your Calendar: The inaugural Pacific Craft Show--to be held at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach Sept. 24-Oct. 1--was announced during a tea staged last week by museum leaders.
Gathered Thursday at the home of Elizabeth Tierney of Newport Beach, art activists Nancy Baldwin, Twyla Martin and Joan Riach joined with show chairwoman Karen Van Buren to tell guests about the first juried craft show to held on the West Coast.
"Modeling it after the renowned craft shows in Philadelphia and the Smithsonian, the show will be filling an important niche for the Southern California area," Van Buren explained. "There will be 57 artists featuring functional works of art for sale" in the five major craft media--glass, metal, fiber, ceramic and wood, she said.
A preview reception on Sept. 23--with the opportunity to purchase art in advance of the show--will be held for sponsors who have donated $250 or more to help underwrite the project. For information: (949) 759-1122, Ext. 550.
Ann Conway's column is published on Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.