Pepperdine University has many gifts—its wonderful students, dedicated faculty and staff, its world class Frederick Weisman Museum and the Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts. These gifts are, of course, enjoyed by those on campus as well as many in Malibu, but the university has always strived to share its gifts with others, too. It was in the spirit of giving that Pepperdine’s Center for the Arts Guild held a holiday boutique and luncheon last week to kick off the Christmas season and raise funds to bring Southern California children to campus to experience the arts.

The annual holiday affair is in its third decade. This year, nearly 140 supporters of the school’s Center for the Arts Guild gathered at the beautifully appointed Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks. As one of the first parties of the holiday season, the atmosphere was filled with festive spirit, but those gathered were there to raise money for arts education activities and for the guild’s popular ARTSReach program. ARTSReach provides school children from Los Angeles and Ventura counties with free professional dance and theater performances on campus, as well as museum tours.

Sharing the arts is meaningful to Rebecca Carson, managing director for the Center for the Arts. 

“When we bring students in for performances at Pepperdine, for a lot of these kids it’s their first time seeing the ocean, their first time on a college campus and their first time seeing a live performance,” Carson said. “It’s a really transformative experience for these young people to be able to see dance, music, theater, opera—all these different types of live performance. They get a lot of energy and joy from that and it also helps them think about things in a different way. We try to present performances that are diverse and have a diverse range of styles, backgrounds and cultures. It’s a way for people who may not be able to leave Los Angeles County to get a worldwide experience of what there is to offer.”

ARTSReach not only covers the cost of the performances, but also provides bus grants for schools that can’t afford transportation. Five thousand children take part each year. This year, the children were able to see 15 performances of 10 different shows. The cost yearly for buses and other expenses is $200,000. It’s raised by sponsors, donors and through the yearly holiday luncheon and boutique.

Vendors at the boutique donated 20 percent of profits to ARTSReach. Sixteen-year-old Jacquelyn Neuner of Malibu donated all the proceeds from her boutique table. The young artist sold handmade greeting cards. Along with donating to the guild, the teenager will give all other proceeds to the National Alliance on Mental Health for research into the causes of mental illnesses plus providing treatment centers and information. Mother Carolyn Neuner said her daughter came up with the idea to sell greeting cards as a way of being kind. 

“Sending a greeting card to somebody is a kind thing to do,” Carolyn said. “With the proceeds going to charity it’s a benevolent circle of kindness.”

In her new capacity as Pepperdine’s First Lady, Joline Gash, wife of President James Gash attended the event—one of her first holiday events of the season. Mrs. Gash has been a part of the Pepperdine community for 30 years since she started as a student. 

“I’m honored to participate in this event. It’s nice to see how many people want to support the Center for the Arts,” the mother of three said. “We’re a real Pepperdine family.” The eldest Gash child is a graduate of the university and two others are completing undergraduate studies at the campus. The First Lady said she’s enjoying her new role at the university, commenting, “I was grateful just to be a student at Pepperdine.” Mrs. Gash said she never dreamed she would one day go on to help lead the school.

Two current students helping out at the luncheon, 22-year-old McKenna Ethington, a senior, and and 20-year-old Jeremy Zerbe, 20, work at the Weisman museum on campus and interact with visiting youngsters while leading them on tours. 

“Most of the children come in and are wowed by what they see. It’s exciting for them,” the two commented.

Vendor and Malibu resident Candace Kelly summed up, “Malibu is a beautiful place to live and in order to keep the arts alive we need to be involved. It’s a wonderful time to give back.”

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