Friends of CASA Net $620K During Holiday Luncheon at VEA Newport Beach

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Sara Van Dusen (Event Chair), Regan Phillips (CASA OC CEO), Sarah Minakary (Event Chair) / Photographer: John Watkins

Friends of CASA, a membership auxiliary of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County, hosted its annual Holiday Luncheon & Fashion Show on Thursday, December 8, at VEA Newport Beach.

The Luncheon that began as a Holiday Tea 27 years ago has brought in over $6 million dollars since 1995. This year’s Luncheon had a record-breaking net for the ninth year in a row, with over $620,000 that will go directly to supporting CASA’s mission of providing a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment.

The Luncheon was chaired by Sarah Minakary and Sara Van Dusen, who were assisted by a volunteer committee of 70 members from the Friends of CASA (FOCASA) auxiliary group, which is led by FOCASA President, Dana Strader.

More than 430 guests arrived to a beautiful reception with tray passed champagne held on the Riviera Lawn at VEA Newport Beach, where 174 auction packages were elegantly displayed.

Barclay Butera Starfish Wish Trees / Photographer: John Watkins

Guests were able to fulfill a child in foster care’s wish through ornaments placed on the Barclay Butera sponsored “Starfish Wish Trees” featuring 261 diverse wishes from the children in the CASA program. Starfish Wishes included items like new clothes for school, baseball lessons, art supplies and day trips to Disneyland, Legoland and the Long Beach Aquarium.

The reception area and ballroom were exquisitely decorated with holiday touches that sparkled in hues of ivory, green and blue and styled by Elite OC Productions. This year’s fashion show was presented by Lafayette 148 New York and South Coast Plaza and produced by Shannon Davidson.

Models walked a V-shaped runway in the ballroom which featured a sneak preview of the Resort 2023 collection by Creative Director, Emily Smith. Following the event program, Lafayette 148 New York showcased a Pop-Up Shop where guests were able to purchase some of the items that were just featured on the runway, with 10% of sales going back to CASA.

This year’s keynote speakers were CASA volunteer, Marie Crosson and her CASA youth, Amy, who were introduced by Presiding Judge of Orange County’s Juvenile Court, The Honorable Craig Arthur.

Lafayette 148 New York runway show / Photographer: John Watkins

Marie and Amy shared a candid story with the audience detailing how having a CASA can completely change the course of a youth’s life.

Amy said, “Over time, I’ve learned from Marie that each of us can only control our own actions, not the actions of others, and how we choose to view and navigate each situation. Our relationship has fundamentally impacted how I navigate my world.”

Marie concluded their talk by sharing “I want to brag about where Amy is today. This full-time college student is studying business, and also working about 25 hours a week. And she’s always got some side gig going. I could not be prouder of her, but I’m also not surprised by her success. Because of her own life experiences, she’s developed so many of the personal characteristics linked to long-term success: courage, tenacity, resilience, a work ethic and maybe most of all, she thinks big.”

Goody Agahi, Meena Agahi / Photographer: John Watkins

The opportunity drawing was provided by Exclusive Jewelry Partner, Lugano Diamonds, who generously donated a floral bracelet in 18K rose gold adorned with Collection VS Diamonds set throughout the petals and clasp and valued at $15,000. CASA supporter, Jamie Born, was the lucky winner.

CASA Board Member Lucy Donahue was a Diamond Starfish Sponsor. Ruby Starfish Sponsors included Sara and Chris Van Dusen, The Jacqueline Glass Family, and BDO and Wells Fargo with a shared sponsorship. Aston Martin served as this year’s Automotive Showcase with two cars featured in the oculus at VEA.

Bobbie Howe, Wendy Tenebaum / Photographer: John Watkins

A new addition to this year’s event was the opportunity to become a CASA Starlight – which sponsors a gift of advocacy to four youth in foster care for a full year through a $12,000 donation. 2022 CASA Starlights included Ryan Clemons, Lucy Donahue, Christy Flanagan, Carie Jernquist-Ferry, and Jaynine & Dave Warner,

Friends of CASA is committed to raising funds for CASA of Orange County’s mentor-advocate program for abused and neglected children in the foster care system. Through the annual Holiday Luncheon, the Friends of CASA raise awareness of the CASA program, recruiting volunteers and long-term donors to CASA.

Don Hutchinson, Nicole Inal Hutchinson / Photographer: John Watkins

This year’s Executive Committee of the Holiday Luncheon was comprised of the following Friends of CASA members: Janine Wald, Nicole Inal Hutchinson, Kimberly DeLamar Matties, Bill Peters, Holly Joseph, Briana Verham, Dana Strader, Colleen Masterson, Valerie Ramsay, Sandi Kirby, Liz deSousa, Deborah Keillor, Connie Dinsmore, Jennifer Gonzales Oxen, Joanna Smith, Raquel Edwards, Marjie Mros, Stefanie Stamires, Nadia Bess, Natalie Midlock, Corinne Sheehan, Trisha Yount, Patty Juarez, Molly Jolly, Joanna James, Jamie Born, Annette Hellmich, Danette Dye.

A 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1985, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County (CASA OC) provides a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment.

CASA volunteers are a crucial intervention to help ensure safety, speed up permanent placement, help children and youth thrive in school, and support positive health outcomes. A CASA volunteer is often the only consistent adult in a child or youth’s life who is not paid to support and advocate for them.

Please visit to learn more.

Placesetting, Flower arrangements by Paul Fenner / Photographer: John Watkins
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