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Rancho Damacitas’ Champion’s Lunch was a huge success


Last updated 10/27/2017 at Noon

Hundreds of guests filled the room at the South Coast Winery in support of Rancho Damacitas’ fourth annual Champion’s Lunch, Oct. 5. The event raised over $200,000 in pledges and donations; donations are still being accepted.

“We are thrilled at the increase in new support we have seen this year as well as those individuals and companies who continue to be committed to the needs of our foster youth through their generous support,” Julie Ngo, chairman of the board of directors, said. “I am so motivated and excited about this upcoming year after seeing the passion and support for Rancho Damacitas youth. This was an amazing day.”

According to their website, the mission of the organization is “to end the cycle of child abuse by providing comprehensive care and compassion for foster children, challenged youth and young adults through life-enriching opportunities and strength-based, solution-focused programs and services.”

Rancho Damacitas has been working since 1983 to end the cycle of abuse and bring renewed hope to foster youth. There are over 4,500 foster youth in Riverside County every year. Over 300 of those emancipate out of foster care at age 18 every year.

“The statistics are grim,” Ngo said, “Fifty percent end up homeless and unemployed within two years of leaving foster care. Fifty percent don’t graduate high school and less than 3 percent will graduate college. They are seven times more likely to be addicted to drugs and two times more likely to be dependent on alcohol.”

Project Independence is a program to help those who have aged out of the foster system transition into adulthood to become responsible and contributing members of society.

“It’s about helping them to avoid the abysmal statistics and repeating the cycle of abuse,” Ngo said.

Rancho Damacitas recently received a nationally recognized three-year certification from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

Ngo recognized U.S. Bank as this year’s Platinum Sponsor. She presented the plaque to Katie McEvilly, district manager for US Bank and also a board member for Rancho Damacitas.

Christine Close and Marlene Woodsworth of The De Luz Women’s Club presented a $50,000 check for Project Independence’s new home, the Honor Home. The funds were raised during the previous weekend’s event, “Kowboys and Kars for Kids.”

Patrick Murphy, board member of the Pechanga Development Corporation, presented a check for $25,000 raised through their 19th annual Charity Golf Classic. The monies will support the learning center at the Honor Home.

Brian Connors, director of marketing and Joan Sparkman, board member of Southwest Healthcare System, presented a check for $20,000 raised through their Scott Crane Memorial Golf Tournament.

Becky Young, chairman of this year’s Champion’s Lunch Committee, was joined by Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff and Temecula Police Chief Capt. Lisa McConnell to present a new award, “The Guardian of the Children” award, which was given to Deputy Autumn Temple. Temple was recognized for going above and beyond in showing compassion and wisdom for the children at Rancho Damacitas.

This year’s Jim Fullmer Visionary Award, which recognizes an exceptional leader in the community for their commitment to others, was presented to Joseph Gray who has been involved with Rancho Damacitas for 10years and served as chairman in 2011.

“It’s a humbling experience to be honored for something you’re passionate about,” Gray said. He accepted this award in honor of the late Sean Moore, “a great friend, loving husband and a great Champion of Rancho Damacitas.”

Greg McGuff, regional president of Lennar Homes and Rancho Damacitas board member, gave an update on the Honor Home and recognized the Honor Home Champions, the many vendors involved in resourcing and building the home.

This year’s keynote speaker was Ann Meyers Drysdale, a pioneer in women’s basketball. Meyers won a silver medal at the 1976 Olympics, is the only woman ever to be drafted into the NBA and is a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. She is currently vice president of both the Phoenix Mercury and the Phoenix Suns. She married Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale, and they have three children.

Meyers opened her speech with a quote from Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on others’ lives.”

She then went on to share examples of people who had an impact and influence in her life journey.

“Brothers, sisters, parents, coaches and teachers have impacted me,” Meyers said.

Meyers was deeply influenced by legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden. She quoted two of his sayings: “Live each day as your masterpiece” and “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for somebody who can’t pay you back.”

She encouraged the audience to “tell each child they are a gift, they can give something unique and special. Everyone is important. Encourage vision, dreams and hopes.” Meyers finished by reciting a poem called “Don’t Quit.”

This year’s youth speaker was Maria, who shared her journey of growing up with a mother who was involved in drugs, alcohol and prostitution. Maria was first removed from her mom at age eight. Her mom made attempts to recover and was able to get her children back, but she ended up reverting back to drug and alcohol use and prostitution. At age 17, with two kids and pregnant with a third, Maria was sent back to foster care.

She credits her Rancho Damacitas foster parents for her success. Now 21, Maria is in a transitional housing program in Murrieta, graduated as a certified nursing assistant and is studying at Mt. San Jacinto College with the goal of earning a medical degree and becoming a trauma surgeon. She also recently purchased her first new car.

Maria shared two main takeaway thoughts.

“You may be born looking like your mother, but you will die looking like your decisions,” she said. When interacting with foster youth, she said, “We’re not looking for anyone to feel sorry for us, but we want to be supported.”

Shawn Sorensen, owner of Exit Alliance Realty, first learned about Rancho Damacitas at a Champion’s Lunch four years ago. She became a champion that day and continues to dedicate her time, talent and treasure to supporting Rancho Damacitas. She encouraged others to help continue the mission “to help children overcome their past and start dreaming about their futures. You can be a Champion for these kids.” Many responded with their pledges of support.

The De Luz Women’s Club presents a check for $50,000 to Rancho Damacitas. Paul Bandong photo

Rancho Damacitas is also looking to expand their New Heights Scholarship Program. The program has helped many Rancho Damacitas’ alumni, like allowing Brittany to continue nonprofit work in Madagascar and allowing Alex to graduate from college with a degree in information technology.

That program, as well as Kids Living Healthy, therapy, education, and Children’s Enrichment are all 100 percent funded by donations. Philanthropic donors can become Champions of Rancho Damacitas with donations totaling at least $1,000 annually. For more information, to get involved or to donate, visit or call (951) 302-7015. For information on Christmas gift needs, contact Marcela Poehlman at (951) 302-2317, ext. 234, or email [email protected].


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