More than 700 prominent entertainment industry executives, business and community leaders and a host of celebrities attended The Help Group Teddy Bear Ball 30th Anniversary Gala fundraiser in honor of 2005 Help Humanitarian Award recipients, Anne Sweeney, Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks and President, Disney-ABC Television, her husband Philip H. Miller, attorney with Irell & Manella, and their two children, Christopher and Rosemary. The event raised a record-breaking $850,000 to support The Help Group's schools and programs serving pre-Kindergarten though high school children with special needs on four major campuses in Southern California.
Country music superstar Martina McBride and Raven-Symone, star of the hit ABC TV "That's So Raven," joined more than 60 children with special needs in holiday musical performances that rocked the ballroom of The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, Dec. 3. George Lopez, star of The George Lopez Show, and his wife Ann kicked off the evening's festivities as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, joining The Help Group Children's Choir, led by Help Group Performing Arts Director Sarah Taylor, for a rousing rendition of "Rocking Around The Christmas Tree."
Celebrities who participated in the gala included Desperate Housewives' Teri Hatcher, James Denton, Nicollette Sheridan and Brenda Strong, Grey's Anatomy Isaiah Washington, acclaimed actor Harry Hamlin and his wife Lisa Rinna, star of SOAPNET'S "Soap Talk."
The Help Group President and CEO Dr. Barbara Firestone praised the Sweeney/Miller family for being remarkable humanitarians and thanked everyone for their friendship and support. "In 1975, we began our first special education class for children with developmental disabilities. We never could have predicted where we would be today," she said. "This is a milestone year for The Help Group. Over the years, it has been a labor of love for everyone involved — as vibrant now as it was in the beginning — a labor of love that helps the children to realize their fullest potential. The need is great and so is our resolve to do all that we can. With your support, we will create brighter futures for many more children.
In his opening remarks, actor Harry Hamlin, best know for his role on LA Law, described The Help Group as one of LA's most precious resources. Isaiah Washington described the The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf's year-long fundraising campaign in celebration of The Help Group's 30th anniversary.
James Denton spoke from the heart when he told the audience, "These days, it seems that everyone knows someone who has autism. I know someone who is very close to me — my nephew," and applauded hosts of the organization's autism awareness public service announcements, including celebrity parents of children with autism, Ed Asner, Gary Cole, Joe Mantegna and John Schneider.
President of Christie's, Andrea Fiuczynski, led a lively auction with the help of celebrities Teri Hatcher, Nicollette Sheridan, Brenda Strong and Isaiah.
Martina McBride sang Let it Snow with the children, followed by a solo of her hit song, Blessed. She later touched the audience with a stirring honoree tribute performance of Over the Rainbow.
Accepting the Help Humanitarian Award on behalf of her family, Rosemary, a high school sophomore, was eloquent and inspirational, leaving many guests teary-eyed. "It's an honor to accept this award on behalf of my family. For my whole life, we've been a family dealing with autism. But we aren't a family defined by it, and for that I thank my parents, our whole family, and our friends." Chris has been a student at The Help Group for 10 years and he has been fortunate to have had great teachers and caring staff who taught him that he has the power to make a difference in the lives of others, she added. "Every Saturday for the last seven years, Chris has spent his time helping people with mental disabilities. Two years ago, I followed his lead, and now we volunteer together…. Every Saturday I watch Chris become a leader. Someone people look to for help, someone they depend on, and someone who makes a difference. To me, Chris's challenges are just part of who he is and who we are. I don't think about being in a family without autism. I'm happy with this one. I know all families have challenges. Everyone does. It's what you do with those challenges that make a difference in the world."
About The Help Group: Founded in 1975, The Help Group is one of the largest, most innovative and comprehensive nonprofit organization in the United States serving children with special needs related to autism, Asperger's disorder, learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, mental retardation, abuse and emotional problems. Its six specialized day schools offer pre-Kindergarten through high school programs for nearly 1,200 students on a daily basis. Its wide range of mental health and therapy services, child abuse, foster family and residential programs extend the organization's reach to more than 5,000 children and their families each year. The Help Group's state-of-the-art schools and programs with more 700 staff members on four major campuses in the Los Angeles area. The Help Group is inspired by its belief that dignity, hope, opportunity and love are the birthrights of all children. For more information about The Help Group, please call 818-779-5212 or visit www.thehelpgroup.org.