No one throws a party like Soroptimist

Cecilia Gonez

Cecilia Gonez

Chair of the evening event, Cecilia Gonez, almost ready to open the doors. Just run home and put on that dress! A quick costume change, and Cecelia emceed the evening looking like a million 1920 bucks. It was a transformation.

And transformation is just what Soroptimists hope will happen when the dollars they raise turn into scholarships, for inspiring, educating, and empowering women and children in our community. Live Your Dream and Follow Your Dream grants are for high school seniors, and for women who are single heads of households and have turned their lives around.

The occasion? The Soroptimist of Downey’s Roaring Twenties Casino Night, guys clad in gangster black with dolls in shimmery flapper dresses. Silver balloon champagne glasses filled with gold and silver bubbles lined the transparent walls between the banqueters and the greenery of the golf course at the Rio Hondo Event Center.

Linda Haines

Linda Haines

“It’s our signature event,” said President Linda Haines. Linda is also a past district governor of Soroptimist.

“And it’s our biggest fundraiser, added Cecelia, chair for Fun and Fundraising and the organizer of the evening’s festivities.

“We make most of our money through our precious-metal-named sponsors,” said Judith Gallardo de Cisneros, president-elect of the club. Platinum sponsors led the way: Heineke Consultation Group, Downey Federal Credit Union and American First Realty and Investments. “Together they make young girls’ dreams come true.”

Gold sponsors Ace Crane and Tredway, Macerich Developers, Treadway Lumsdaine & Doyle contributed, and also Bev Mathis, L’Abri Management, and Mr. C’s Towing. Risher Mortuaries and Matias Flores Law Firm rounded out the list. Their names were prominently featured through the room and on placards on the windows, while table sponsors had their names on large place cards.

Silver donors helped too: Raul and Arlene Lopez, Law Offices of Alex Saab, Claudia Camarena de Leon, Los Amigos Mobile Home Park and Stonewood Apartments, Sam’s Roofing Materials, and there were many more.

With these patrons, young girls can be helped to Live Their Dreams. And the Follow Your Dream women who are struggling to get back to normalcy are equally grateful

How the dreams get transformed into dollars and then into the scholarships that will unlock the future, is the story of the casino evening.

“We started planning this event about the first of the year,” said Linda. “We expect to clear about $20,000, and it goes directly to our Scholarship Fund for next year’s awards.”

Judith and Bob Cisneros

Judith and Bob Cisneros

“And we want to thank our all our sponsors,” said Gallardo de Cisneros, stunning in black and silver with pearls. “It takes everyone together.”

Does the club keep track of the young women who win their awards?

“We personally encourage each one to come back and tell us their stories,” said Linda. “And we hope someday they will want to give back to the community by becoming Soroptimsts too.”

Greeting guests in the Rio Hondo foyer were Ellie Eck and Judy MacDonnald, long-time Soroptimists. Judy was the one with the black feather cockade in her hair: Ellie wore peacock feathers on her blond bob. So Twenties.

They were joined by another member in flaming red. All of the three assigned bidder’s identification numbers, in case bidders wished to be anonymous while competing silently and writing their bids for the prizes.

The Bob Winningkam Banquet Room was divided into three areas which flowed into each other. At one end, blackjack tables, poker dealers and a roulette wheel beckoned, and guests sat at Texas Hold ’Em tables, dealers and croupiers ready to start them in play.

In the middle of the room guests wandered through white-skirted tabled set with the prize-baskets, bid numbers in hand, studying the cellophane-wrapped prizes. At the other extreme silver chafing dishes held dinner treats and several tables were arranged for seating diners.

As for prizes, there were vouchers for wine from Naked Wine, and a Courage Forward- sponsored basket with vouchers for dinner at Lock and Key, and Luis Butcher Shop, always a generous backer of Soroptimist events. Courage Forward is a local support group for veterans with the revolutionary new concept where at-promise youth unite with veterans to find purpose together. It includes resources for housing, job training and job placement.

Club members solicited enticing donations from Downey businesses and farther afield: a stay at an Indian Wells golf and tennis resort, and La Mirada dinner theatre tickets.

Tickets for Angels games, with preferred parking, and season tickets for Angels game were up for the evening’s highest bidder. The idea of the silent auction is to get items donated that guests may bid on, and actually acquire for less than the going price. It’s a win-win situation all around.

A chocoholics dream basket held cacao and cocoa, sea salt toffee with chocolate truffles, giant Hershey bars and other items too mouthwatering to mention. Ocean Breeze, Downey’s spa salon, underwrote a package. A Marc Jacobs leather bag was sure to go for less than its $325 face value, and the same for a Kate Spade cream leather creation. A bottle of The Glenlivet single malt scotch sat in majestic splendor.

Prizes to be won instead of money for the gamblers included coupons for dinner and brewskis at Rock and Brew, and Golf ‘N Stuff passes.

SEEN AT THE PRIZE TABLES: Greg Welch, president of Downey Rotary, and Barbara Risher Welch, co-owners of Risher Mortuaries; Rotary President-Elect Nate Mahoney waiting for Cecelia Gonez to get the music turned to something more suitable for lively dancing. Greg and Linda Haines were later seen deep in a presidential confab, and even later, at the poker tables.

Guests chatted at the dinner tables, enjoying chicken alfredo and a tomato and meat sauce-filled pasta. The ambiance was casual but elegant, as diners, gamblers and bargain seekers took turns at the various kinds of table across the room.

SPOTTED AT THE DESSERT TABLE: First, Bev Mathis, longtime Soroptimst and gold sponsor, was testing the macaroons, and then her husband, Sam, of the Optimist Club and board member of the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center here in Downey, who had already invested in the glittering mocha cream and chocolate swirled rum-flavored mini cupcakes. The to-die-for pastries were brought by Soroptimist Alex Gamez.

dessert table.jpg

Note to self: next year, forget the dinner line and hit the dessert table, early and often. Example, the sandwiched macaroons were decorated to match the black, gold and silver theme. The “gold” filling was a butterscotch cream.

The other silver-white almond pastry confections were filled with a black mystery substance that proved to be, on second tasting – if once is good, twice is better, right? – a delicate licorice-flavored spread. These goodies were so good they should have been offered as prizes instead of given away as dessert.

Many Soroptimists wear several hats, representing important concerns in Downey. Giggy Perez-Saab, a past president and now elected to the Downey school board, was there with City Councilman husband Alex. And Dorothy Pemberton, in an exotic green velvet fringed shawl, has not only been the face of Soroptimism in Downey for years, but now also heads up PTA Helps, the pantry project that provides emergency food to needy Downey district school families year-round.

“We can always use donations of canned food,” said Dorothy.

Pat Heineke had just been named Volunteer of the Year the night before, at the Coordinating Council’s banquet in this same room. She has served with the Arc of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. And Donna Lindley, Soroptimist and executive director of the Arc, was a major donor of prizes. Donna wore an impossibly pretty pink headband with black lace and dangling strings of jet, to go with her flapper pearls and black and pink flowered dress. Kevin MacDonald, former Arc exec, came down from Santa Clarita to support the Soroptimist cause.

Blanca Rochin and Dr. Nina Smart.

Blanca Rochin and Dr. Nina Smart.

Dr. Nina Smart was all quivery in a fringe flapper black satin dress, fishnet stockings and a large feather headdress in her bouffant hair. Earlier this year, Dr. Nina represented all of Southern California Soroptimist at the United Nations’ weeklong colloquy on the status of women, held in New York City. She is a non-violence human rights activist, sociologist, and author who educates about female genitalia mutilation (FGM) and works to eradicate the practice in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and here in California.

Cecilia Gonez, also named Volunteer of the Year at the same banquet the previous night by the Soroptimists, is an outstanding champion of the abuses of human trafficking, another important concern of Soroptimist. She organized the first conference here on human trafficking and with her tireless energy speaks everywhere on the subject, one of contemporary society’s most pressing problems. Not just a threat to girls and women, it preys on families at every level of society.

Kevin MacDonald sported a black tuxedo with long black tie; Rotarian Ray Brown, whose wife Kookie was done up in black spangles and sparkles, went for the classic bow tie. Former Mayor Meredith Perkins, an Optimist and a born party dancer, was another one who was waiting for the tempo of the music to liven up. Music so far had been well modulated, allowing for easy conversation.

Arlene Lopez challenges while Meredith Perkins and Judy McDonnell look on.

Arlene Lopez challenges while Meredith Perkins and Judy McDonnell look on.

The Lopez family, Raul and son Alex, are both past presidents of the Rotary Club of Downey and they were there in support of Raul’s wife and Alex’s mother Arlene, that vivacious wiz at the poker tables, is a long-sustaining Soroptimist. Vicky Spearman added to that illustrious group.

As the evening progressed, the green-felt covered gambling tables got busy as everyone used their free chips to get started. Guests still milled around the glamorous silent auction items, and when this senior citizen left, the well-attended evening was clearly still fresh and young.

Soroptimists are known for their dedication to making better conditions for women and children, and also for throwing awesome parties. Considering the relatively small size of their club, Soroptimist International of Downey raises a substantial amount, and this is how they transform their community and the world.

Features, NewsLorine Parks