How do you share the world of orphans with a roomful of supporters halfway around the world? I was faced with this challenge as I attended a Worldwide Orphans fundraiser at the iconic John Lautner Garcia House in the Hollywood Hills.
The setting was dramatic. The John Lautner Garcia House - built in 1962 - is owned by John McIlwee and Bill Damaschke, who generously donated their home for our event. No matter where you are inside this house, you feel like you are outside. Cantilevered over a hill, its caissons, struts and girders would rival any bridge. The view is vast and sprawling.
The guests were personally invited by Amy Poehler, who hosted the event, and Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. They poured onto the deck and into the homey living room; a diverse group of performers, entertainment industry people, and financial wizards blended with already existing WWO supporters. Everyone was there to share a moment of inspiration.
Shutterfly sponsored the event and created black and white masterpieces from Worldwide Orphans' photo library that were perched on easels and displayed on photo cubes all around us. WWO's boys and girls from abroad were here with us in the Lautner Garcia house.
Amy Poehler and I stood above the living room and spoke to the 100 or so guests about. Amy who is usually smiling and wise-cracking clever remarks spoke very seriously about her three years of work with WWO as our Ambassador of Arts, including her trip to Haiti in January 2013. Her words brought me back to that gentle and easy time where I saw her fall in love with Haiti and the kids we serve.
I asked everyone to close their eyes, and then I took them on a journey into my past on my first trip to Romania in the late 90s. We went to Siret near the Ukrainian border, on a cold night well-below zero. Hundreds of dirty, foul smelling, hungry orphans covered us like ants on an ant hill, as we entered a gated "prison" for orphaned children who were being treated like animals...animals are treated better frankly. "I want to go to America" was what I remembered kids singing out in English and I also recall a mountain of frozen clothes that had been given by well-meaning people from a distant land; they were likely un-wearable. This is a painful memory for me, but it was finally what has driven me to never feel vanquished in the fight to help orphans. I felt guilty on that trip to Siret. I was guilty of seeing atrocities and not doing enough. The guests stayed with me on Tuesday night and I hope that they will remember my memory and just do something good in this world.....anything will do.
We raised about $75,000 that night. We are so grateful to Shutterfly, John McIlwee and Bill Damaschke, Heineken and Veev (who donated beverages), Matt Sayles (who donated photography) the dozens of supporters who came and donated that night, and those who could not attend and still donated. These vital funds will help us take care of the children we love as our own. We at WWO think of the kids we support as our children and that is not a flimsy claim. More importantly, we shared the WWO experience and we made friends who will join the fight against the Orphan Crisis. This is a daunting task, but nothing worthy is ever easy.