The 44 Women for Orangewood Support Group Raises $340K at Annual Scholarship Luncheon at Balboa Bay Resort

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Mrunal Shah, Judy Nicholls, Yvette and Kevin McCarthy at the 44 Women for Orangewood luncheon

On Wednesday, June 1, 44 Women for Orangewood, a dynamic group of women passionate about helping Orange County’s foster and community youth, hosted its 18th Annual Scholarship Luncheon at the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach.

The Luncheon welcomed over 350 guests and featured premier elements such as opportunity drawings and prizes including a featured Twila True jewelry piece, a champagne cocktail hour, a live fund-a-need for Orangewood’s youth, and two special guest speakers.

The event netted $340,000. All proceeds from the event will benefit Orangewood Foundation’s foster youth and programs.

“The support we were shown by our donors, sponsors, and community members at this year’s event was truly remarkable and will have a positive impact Orangewood Foundation, allowing them to better serve the youth who are in foster care,” said 44 Women for Orangewood Co-Founder, Susan Samueli of Newport Beach. “We are proud to host this Luncheon each year as it continuously helps Orangewood Foundation help young individuals reach their greatest potentials.”

The Luncheon welcomed keynote speaker Deidre Pujols, the founder of Open Gate International, a culinary program that offers hands-on training and life skills to students, and Strike Out Slavery, an event designed to raise awareness at Major League Baseball Games about the existence of modern-day slavery.

Keynote Speaker Deidre Pujols

She is also the CEO of Pujols Kitchen LLC and the founder of Pujols Family Foundation, a national nonprofit agency that supports children with Down Syndrome along with their families and improves the lives of impoverished individuals living in the Dominican Republic.

This year’s youth speaker, Junely Merwin, shared how her personal journey led her to become an advocate for youth. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Junely entered the foster care system at the age of 15 with her one-month-old son in her arms and remained in care until she aged out at 21.

Following her time in foster care, Junely earned a full-ride scholarship through the Guardian Scholars Program at California State University Fullerton, earning her bachelor’s degree in Human Services with a concentration in Mental Health, Administration and Community Practice.

Guest Speaker Junely Merwin

As an individual who has overcome overbearing obstacles, Junely now devotes herself to advocacy work to improve the foster care system concentrating on topics such as mental health, life skills, resources, the importance of support systems, sex education, higher education, and an emphasis on teenage mothers. She is a member and the foster youth ambassador for Alliance of Moms who support teen parents in foster care and continues to raise awareness for the causes she is passionate about through social media and her website,

“Orangewood Foundation is eternally grateful for the 44 Women for Orangewood group and their dedication to our community and foster youth,” shared Chris Simonsen, CEO of Orangewood Foundation. “The scholarships funded through this annual event allow us to provide for these youth and equip them with the tools and resources they need to continue their education and reach their greatest potential.”

Julie Hefner peruses the opportunity drawing items

The 18th Annual Scholarship Luncheon was led by committee co-chairs, Susan Samueli and Judy Nicholls, and made possible by several sponsors and donors, including, Magna Cum Laude sponsors, Samueli Foundation and Mitzi-Garcia Stein; Valedictorian sponsors, Newport Beach Dermatology & Plastic Surgery and Union Bank; and Salutatorian sponsors Kaiser Permanente, Farmers & Merchants Bank, Modern Luxury, Julie & Greg Dunlap, CalPac Sheet Metal, Yvette & Kevin McCarthy, and Anaheim Ducks & Honda Center.

44 Women for Orangewood was founded in 1999 by Susan Samueli. As some of Orange County’s most philanthropically minded and dedicated women, this organization contributes to Orangewood Foundation by supporting and inspiring foster and community youth that receive support services through programs provided by Orangewood Foundation. The three key effort areas of the group are providing mentoring and education, increasing community awareness about the youth Orangewood serves, and hosting annual fundraising events. To learn more about 44 Women for Orangewood, please visit

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