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Donor Volunteer Spotlight

Thanks to the following outstanding donors and volunteers! Their tremendous gifts of time, money and expertise have made a signficant difference to Orangewood and the children and young adults we serve. Please read more about these wonderful individuals by clicking on their names below.

Click here to view the full list, including the six below and: Orange Coast College, Dave Ritchie; Sandi Jackson; Frank Robitaille & Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation; Laura Peters; McDermott Will & Emery; Tim and Michele Ryan; Stephanie Gehl; David Wilson; James Bova, Karen Norbutas, Kristina Elliot & Misty Woodall; Marian Bergeson; Susan Samueli; Mike McCarthy & ditech.com; Bruce and Lynn Fetter; Paul Makarechian; John Hagestad; Shirley Pepys; Keri Dugan; General William Lyon; and Ron Davis.

Jeff Johnson and Saddleback Church
May 2015

Jeff Johnson is dedicated to the teens in our Independent Living Program (ILP). Back in November, 2010 he volunteered to lead his first ILP workshop entitled “Skillz 4 Life.” ILP workshops focus on the four key areas of Career, Daily Living, Education and Relationships, and help prepare youth to live on their own more confidently and better prepared for the challenges that adulthood brings.

Now more than four and a half years later, Jeff’s monthly “Skillz 4 Life” workshop is one of the most popular with our youth. They love his workshop, they explain, because they can tell what he is doing comes straight from the heart. Jeff has spent countless hours developing and tweaking a curriculum that teaches life skills in a way the youth can relate to. Jeff, a member of Saddleback Church, recruits volunteer speakers and helpers who bring dinner and serve it to the youth.

When asked what motivates him, Jeff said, “We don’t look at the youth in terms of who and where they are now. We view them through a lens of who they can become and where they can go with the love, care, understanding, and encouragement we desire to be a part of giving them.” Thank you, Jeff, for your passion and devotion for current and former foster youth in Orange County!
Michelle Buck-Gordon
December 2014

Volunteers support Orangewood’s mission with foster youth in a variety of ways – through their time, their talent, or by connecting with our youth. Michelle Buck-Gordon does it all. Which is why Orangewood named her Outstanding Volunteer of the Year at our volunteer reception held in October.

Michelle has made it her life’s mission to help those like her – a former foster youth once placed at the Orangewood Children’s Home, the county’s emergency shelter for abused and neglected children. Since she started volunteering with Orangewood in 2011, Michelle has served a total of 340 volunteer hours. Michelle began volunteering at youth events. As she got to know Orangewood and the youth we serve, she began volunteering more and more. She started monthly “Baking with Mrs. Gordon” workshops in our on-site Resource Center to teach baking skills to our youth. She helped them train for 5K races and took them hiking and kayaking.

In the fall of 2013, The Academy, our public charter high school, was looking for a volunteer to facilitate an after-school art class. Michelle, an art lover, jumped at the chance. She created the “Creating Paths” program, developed the curriculum and taught class twice a week.

When she was younger, Michelle was personally motivated by seeing her art on display. In an effort to share this experience with The Academy students, she coordinated two art shows this year to display the youth’s work – one at the Orange County Fairgrounds, and the other at a local Fullerton gallery. The opportunity to have their work showcased in public was exciting and inspiring to the students.

Michelle’s passion has always been to motivate and inspire teens, specifically those with a difficult childhood. She has served both the Resource Center and The Academy with all her heart. Her care and devotion for our youth, and the ways in which she goes above and beyond to inspire them made her a natural choice for the 2014 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year. Congratulations, Michelle!
Frank T. Suryan, Jr.
October, 2014

Frank T. Suryan, Jr. is Chairman and CEO of Lyon Communities and a graduate of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. But growing up he had few thoughts of going to college. Eventually he decided to pursue a degree, thanks to the influence of his girlfriend at the time, and earned his Bachelor’s.

Today Frank has a personal commitment to youth who are likely to fall through the cracks and never make it to college, or even graduate from high school, especially foster youth. He has been a donor to Orangewood Children’s Foundation for nearly 20 years – giving in a variety of ways including: to our events, college scholarships, The Academy high school capital campaign, and toys/supplies/gift cards for our youth. Additionally, he has served on the Board of Directors since 2007.

Recently Frank was awarded the General Lyon Crystal Vision Philanthropy Award at the 2014 Ambassador Luncheon. The award is given annually at the event to a worthy individual who has given of their time and resources and who reflects the unending commitment to Orange County children that has been demonstrated by Founding Board Chairman General William Lyon. Coincidentally, Frank and General Lyon are business partners. They joined together as business partners in 1988 and formed Lyon Communities based in Newport Beach. In an interview before the ceremony, General Lyon remarked on Frank’s devotion to Orangewood, saying that he “truly recognizes that young people have a chance through what we’re doing at Orangewood.” Congratulations, Frank!


The late Jim McNamara
October 2013

Jim McNamara was born in 1924 in Hastings, Minnesota. He was the second of six boys and raised during the Depression era primarily by his mother. At the age of 16 he joined the Army. He served for 24 years, including in the Korean War, and eventually rose to the rank of Major. Jim married Oralee in 1947 and the couple went on to have five children. They lived in various states and in Europe while Jim was in the service.

In the early 1960s, Jim and his family moved to Garden Grove and he started a new career in banking and finance. He worked for Union Bank for several years and then The William Lyon Company for 14 years. He retired as a Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for the company.

Retirement didn’t last long for Jim as he became actively involved in charitable causes with Orangewood Children’s Foundation, City of Hope, Boy Scouts of America, and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. During his almost 30 years of involvement with Orangewood, Jim wanted to help out however he could. He understood the value of higher education and the importance of our college scholarship program. At the same time he recognized how hard it was to raise money. He and Oralee were frequent event sponsors and major contributors to many of Orangewood programs. Jim was a great fundraiser too. He was so likeable and passionate about Orangewood it was hard for people to say no to him!

Jim and Oralee genuinely loved to meet Orangewood youth in person, even attending a student/donor reception held outdoors on a sweltering August afternoon last year! Among Orangewood staff Jim was known as a Santa of sorts…a happy, white-haired man going cubicle to cubicle handing out candy canes in mid-December and thanking each person for their hard work during the year.

Jim was the father of five children, grandfather of eight, and great-grandfather of 10. He was a friend and source of inspiration to countless others. He died in December at the age of 88. In an interview by high school students for a paper on honoring war veterans, Jim said, “I have a great, wonderful family and a great, rewarding life. I’m a very lucky guy.” All of us who had the privilege of knowing Jim consider ourselves the lucky ones!
Mary Lara
December 2012

This past October at our volunteer recognition reception we recognized Mary Lara as our 2012 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year. Mary started volunteering with Orangewood in 2009. Since then she has donated 238 hours of her time in a variety of areas. Mary helps with office projects and attends special events, and was a lead volunteer for our 2011 holiday gift drive. Around Orangewood’s offices Mary is a familiar face. She is well-known as a hard worker with a calm demeanor and ready smile. We are grateful to have her help and happy to give her this well-deserved honor. Thanks, Mary!

Congratulations to these other volunteers who were honored as well:
• Jeff Johnson
• Lynelle Mejia-Walsh
• Jeannette Preece
• Megan & Matt Vest


Ritz Restaurant & Garden
May 2012

The Ritz Restaurant and Garden has been a fixture in Orange County since the late 1970’s. In the beginning a small group of men formed the “Ritz Brothers” to support the restaurant and original owner Hans Prager. However Prager was a strong believer in giving back to the community so over time the group evolved into a “fraternity of community involved men”. Members pay annual “dues” of $150 not to the restaurant but to the charity of their choice from among a list selected by the restaurant. Today the group offers members special restaurant privileges and networking opportunities to approximately 600 members. The restaurant also has a similar group for women.

For over 11 years the Ritz Restaurant and Garden has generously donated gift certificates to various Orangewood fundraising events. In 2006, Orangewood received almost $10,000 from the Ritz Brothers. Thanks to the efforts of Alan Clifton, a Ritz Brother since 1998 and a long-time member of our PALS auxiliary board, Orangewood was once again selected as a charity recipient beginning in 2010. In the three years since, Orangewood has received over $74,000 from the Ritz Brothers. “Ritz Brothers is a really unique group,” said Carlos Leija, Orangewood’ Chief Development Officer. “The restaurant encourages its members to support local charities and their contributions are huge for us. Many of the members give far more than $150. We really appreciate their support, especially from managing partner Ray Jacobi and controller Laurie Virtue.”
Vikki Vargas
December 2011

Many know Vikki Vargas from her nearly three decades of reporting with NBC4. She joined the station in 1982 and is now Orange County Bureau Chief and the most senior reporter at the station. Along the way she has received many awards and honors.

We know Vikki from her years of passion and dedication to abused children, especially in helping them achieve their dreams of a college education. She has served on Orangewood’s Board of Directors for 15 years and on the Foundation’s marketing committee for six years. Since the inception of the Guardian Scholars program in 1998, Vikki has been a huge advocate for the program at CSUF. (Guardian Scholars is a partnership between Orangewood and local universities to provide on-campus support for foster youth pursuing higher education.) She has sat in on the interview process of the students, hosted student/donor gatherings in her home and emceed the annual graduation banquet. She takes the time and effort to know the students personally and is genuinely interested in their success. As of August of this year, Vikki and her husband Michael are the proud parents of their own college student.

In October, Vikki was awarded the 2011 General Lyon Crystal Vision Philanthropy Award at our annual Ambassador Luncheon. Congratulations Vikki!

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