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Beating Adversity With Love, Grace

March 01, 2001|ANN CONWAY

In what had to be one of the most poignant moments to grace a public tribute, Donny Yorde, a 60-year-old man with Down's syndrome, took the spotlight before hundreds of people to thank his mother for not institutionalizing him.

Instead, Norma Yorde went on to establish the Good Shepherd Lutheran Home of the West, which has built a network of 100 homes for people with developmental disabilities.

"I love you, Norma," Donny said as he stood before guests last week at the Goodwill Industries of Orange County's annual Walter Knott Service Award Luncheon. "Thank you, Mom."

Yorde, a centenarian who was unable to attend the benefit, was among four "Women of Hope" recognized by Goodwill for their legacies of volunteerism and philanthropy.

Equally moving was an appearance by award-winner Elizabeth Phillips, an 18-year-old survivor of "shaken baby syndrome." Phillips became blind in both eyes when, at 6 months, a neighbor's nanny shook her so violently that she went into a coma.

"It's not hard for me to tell people why or how this happened," Phillips said during the event at the Hyatt Regency Irvine. "What's really hard is to look at how being abused and blinded has altered the course of my life."

With all that she has been through, Phillips has been a tireless child advocate. At the age of 3, she addressed the California Legislature in support of the Phillip Reeves Child Protection Act of 1987. "I try to focus on the positive aspects of my life; I feel really grateful that I am able to live in the incredible complexity of our world," she said.

Also recognized was Gail Williamson, mother of a 21-year-old son with Down's syndrome, who works to foster positive images of the disabled in the entertainment industry.

"This award comes from my passion to get up every morning and create more inclusion, more employment and a higher quality of life for people with disabilities and their families," she said.

Williamson asked that people not be afraid of what "the disabled don't know."

"Everyone has something different about them," she added, "and just because it's a little more obvious, don't let it frighten you from interacting with them."

Art professor and artist Katherine Sherwood, a stroke survivor, was also honored at the event emceed by Ed Arnold.

Three years ago, at age 44, the UC Berkeley professor suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed her right side.

Her response was to turn herself from a right-handed artist into a left-handed one, which transformed her artistic style and brought her critical acclaim and national renown.

During the festivities, Goodwill President George W. Kessinger told the crowd that the nonprofit organization would place 320 people with disabilities in competitive employment this year. Overall, "1,800 people will be served by our programs this year," he said.

The programs help the disabled in the areas of work and social abilities, cultural and language skills and success in the workplace.

Kessinger also noted that a new Goodwill retail store will open March 9 in Fullerton. The organization's online store (, where hundreds of antiques and collectibles are for sale, is also thriving.

Dining with a Diva

Midnight didn't stop this Cinderella. In fact, when the clock struck 12 Monday, popular mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli was just getting started.

After performing a Vivaldi program with four encores at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Bartoli received admirers in Founders Hall and then, about midnight, went to nearby Antonello Ristorante to dine with members of the Esterhazy support group (donors of $25,000 and up) of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

The diva had stepped out of her burnt-sienna toned silk taffeta gown and into a black satin pantsuit to greet guests, who included arts patrons Jim Alexiou and Bill Gillespie. "The audience was magnificent--so warm, I would really like to embrace everybody!" she said.

"This is a rare moment for Orange County," said Dean Corey, executive director of the Philharmonic Society. "Bartoli's strength and technique are beyond description."

During intermission at Segerstrom Hall, members of the society's Pro Musica support group (donors of $1,000 annually) gathered on the Plaza Level to sip champagne and sing Bartoli's praises.

"Watching her is watching raw emotion," Judith Jelinek said. "Her body, her facial expression--you just can't not be moved by it. It's like she invites you along on a journey and then you celebrate with her when she makes it through."

Glass Showcase

Members of the Fellows support group of the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana got the first look at its new exhibit, "Trilogy of Glasswork: Ancient Rome--Chihuly--Yang" on Friday.

Guests sipped bubbly before they toured the showcase of items that included delicately hewn Roman vessels, Buddha-inspired glass sculptures by Loretta Hui-shan Yang and the voluptuous sea-form shapes of master glass blower Dale Chihuly.

"I don't think we've ever tried opening three main exhibits at once," museum president Peter Keller said. "We started with only Roman Glass and then began to worry that, with our recent popular shows from the Forbidden City and Egypt, we needed to add to the dimension of the exhibition."

The Romans set the tone for the use of glass, Keller observed. "And so we decided to add the dimensions of two contemporary glass masters, Yang and Chihuly."

Museum activist Anne Shih wore a small example of Yang's glasswork on a silk rope around her neck. "Her jewelry is wonderful," she said. "It goes with any color you wear."

Some pieces are for sale in the museum gift shop.

Shih also likes Yang's large, tabletop sculptures. "I have four in my home," she said.

The exhibit continues through June 4. Information: (714) 567-3600.

Ann Conway can be reached by phone at (714) 966-5952 or by fax at (714) 966-7790.

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