A stunning new Malibu home was the site of last Saturday evening’s sold-out fundraising event for the Children’s Lifesaving Foundation, Un Gusto di Malibu—Italian for “A Taste of Malibu.” The spirit of giving was evident throughout, with the food, the drink and the venue all donated free of charge, and many of the attendees making extra donations to make sure the group is able to provide an extra special holiday season for the many at-risk children it helps.

Maria D’Angelo founded CLF in Santa Monica back in 1993. Over the years, the nonprofit’s three program platforms (Living, Learning, Enrichment) have helped thousands of at-risk and homeless youth and families. “Living” identifies and provides support to LA families living in shelters. “Learning” provides at-risk children with a place to study, along with mentors and tutors, and continues that support from kindergarten through high school. “Enrichment” provides experiences including beach trips to Malibu, summer camp and holiday parties. 

Golden Globe and Emmy award winning actor Michael Chiklis, perhaps best known for his work on “The Commish” and “The Shield,” as well as more recent shows like “American Horror Story” and “Gotham,” hosted the event. In an interview, he said he’s been involved with CLF since 1995, after hearing about it through best friend and fellow actor on “The Commish,” John Cygan. 

Since then, he’s helped clean and fix up a ranch camp near Circle X that the children attend, and has helped out on beach trips, where he got to see the expression on kids’ faces as they saw the ocean for the first time. 

CLF- partygoers

One of several dining areas set up for the CLF fundraiser, where partygoers could sit down and enjoy Italian food from five Malibu restaurants and two caterers.

“These kids are from the inner city near downtown LA, and most have never seen the ocean,” he said. “The world of these kids is a four- to six-block area, and it’s incredible to see the mind-expanding moment when they get off the bus. It makes them realize that certain things they had only seen before on TV are actually possible.

“You know that old expression?  If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. But teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime,” Chiklis continued. “That’s what CLF does—the families get a stipend, they make job training available, et cetera. They give them a leg up instead of a handout. As of three years ago, not one family they helped had gone back into a shelter.”

Cygan, the actor, passed away last May, and a scholarship fund was set up at CLF in his honor. At the event, three young people were awarded John Cygan Memorial Scholarships: Alan Bohannon is a freshman at UC-Merced majoring in computer science; Nasir Grissom, on scholarship at Phillip Exeter Academy through Cornell University, is planning to major in finance at Williams University; and Yael Juarez, a freshman at San Jose State, is majoring in political science. 

“These teens have participated in the CLF’s Camp4All, Care through College and Project Angel Wings Holiday Programs since they were very young children, and have even pledged to give back as they grow older,” D’Angelo wrote in an email. 

CLF- Yael Juarez

Yael Juarez, one of the Children’s Lifesaving Foundation’s scholarship winners, is currently a freshman at San Jose State, majoring in political science.

Scholarship recipient Bohannon, in an interview, said he’s been with CLF since he was five years old, and is now 18. He said he “had issues” as a child, “but Maria was so kind, and I’d always come in and do my homework there because it was quiet ... As I grew up, I’d help the younger kids.”

Reflecting on the enrichment experiences, Bohannon said, “Camp Circle X was the greatest, and surf camp was where I learned to boogie board. They also took us to movie premieres. They always made the kids feel very good, and always gave them hope.”

The fundraiser was held at a new Malibu home designed and built by local designer and contractor Michael Torrey, president of Avalon Construction. He put the home on the market just this year for $6.45 million and allowed its use for the event. 

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” he said. “The house can be seen, displayed art gives the artists a chance to be seen, and the charity benefits.”

Italian dishes were donated by a laundry list of some of Malibu’s favorite restaurants: Spruzzo’s, The Sunset Restaurant, Moonshadows, Marmalade Café and Tramonto Bistro; flowers were by Carrie Vose Interiors, and wines were chosen and donated by Marla and Jeffrey Michaels of KAYO of California. Topson-Downs was a major sponsor.

CLF is hosting a holiday party on Dec. 16 at Camp Hess Kramer for 150 low-income LA-area youth. Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor or “adopting” a family can contact CLF at:  info@childrenslifesaving.com.

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