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Charity Work Now Entertains Partyers

A social club whose members helped develop Orange County in the 1960s donates $1 million to a Santa Ana after-school program.

June 02, 2005|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

The story of the Teahouse Gang began before the big malls came to Orange County.

The dozen or so young men -- developers, lenders and appraisers -- were on the ground floor of Orange County development in the 1960s. They made millions and partied hard when they weren't at work in Newport Beach, in a building on Coast Highway that looked like a Japanese teahouse, given its high-pitched roof and subtly upswept eaves.

One of the men, John Parker, a developer whose projects include an Aliso Viejo office park, remembers their "hellacious parties" in Bommer Canyon and their spirited boasts and toasts at Christmas parties.

During that tradition, Dan Donahue prodded the group to do more than drink and develop, so they explored philanthropy, Parker recounted.

Now, the Teahouse Gang, their real estate associates, and friends and family of Donahue are creating a legacy of goodwill. Thanks to their $1-million donation, a warehouse building has been bought and is being converted so that Kidworks, a nonprofit after-school program in Santa Ana, can operate out of its own community center.

The donation shows that "the real estate industry awoke to its responsibility," said Ranney Draper, a real estate investor who as a longtime United Way donor urged that organization to donate $25,000 to Kidworks. "We have benefited mightily from the growth of this county. Government cannot do everything. We can help."

The donation has juxtaposed two sides of Orange County. On the one side is Kidworks, whose volunteer tutors help Spanish-speaking children with their homework in two gritty Santa Ana apartment complexes while their parents work long hours.

On the other side are people like Donahue, who before he died in 2003 was prominent in the shopping center industry and whose company, Donahue Schriber, led development and redevelopment projects including Fashion Island in Newport Beach, the Tustin Market Place and the Galleria in Glendale.

In Donahue's memory, his friends and the Teahouse Gang gathered in November 2003 at the Balboa Bay Club for dinner and an auction of donated gifts and travel packages that raised $1 million in four hours. The money was earmarked for Kidworks, an organization that Teahouse Gang members had come to know through their association with Kidworks founder Larry Acosta. Previously, the group had given $150,000 to Kidworks.

Ava Steaffens, president and chief executive of Kidworks, said the organization used the $1 million, one of the group's largest gifts, to buy a building between its two homework centers on Townsend and Myrtle streets. Children find the converted apartments an oasis from their crowded apartments, where adults are often unable to help them with homework.

Kidworks has parlayed the donation from the Teahouse Gang to get support from other benefactors.

The building at Daisy and Chestnut avenues is being renovated to include a day-care center, a health clinic, tutoring programs, computer labs, a preschool and a recreation center.

Santa Ana College will offer computer, reading and English classes for adults. The Santa Ana W/O/R/K (Work, Opportunity, Resources and Knowledge) Center, an agency funded with city and state money to provide job assistance and training, will offer workforce development and job placement in the new center.

The Santa Ana Empowerment Zone, a public agency that helps businesses and others get tax credits and grants, donated $600,000 toward the building's renovation. Donations from other organizations will support a day-care center, a health clinic, a preschool and a recreation center.

Altogether, Kidworks has raised $2.1 million toward a $3.5-million renovation goal.

The Teahouse Gang and friends "opened up a world of possibilities and made things possible for the Latino community in an area that has been under resourced," Steaffens said. "Our long-term commitment, coupled with their financial commitment, is very powerful."

Members of the Teahouse Gang are now expanding their charitable work, joining developer Bob Campbell of CT Realty in Newport Beach to create Building Block Foundation, which will give money to other organizations like Kidworks, which to date has been its primary beneficiary.

"What we said was, let's create a legacy," Parker said. "We wanted to expand the concept and target similarly disadvantaged but deserving young people."

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