That giving spirit was felt around the room when supporters of Burbank Temporary Aid Center recognized the Cusumano Real Estate Group.
The Cusumano family and employees — who feel like family –received the BTAC, which is the acronym for the Burbank Top Award for Citizenship as well as the center. There were about 360 guests sharing in the excitement at the 13th annual dinner gala on March 4 at the Castaway Starlight Room.
Master of ceremonies Michael Hastings reminded people of how fortunate they were to be sitting at their tables enjoying a wonderful dinner.
“How many of those who BTAC serves would love to be in your seats tonight?” he asked the crowd. “I think that is something you should all think about as you are here tonight. Put yourself in someone else’s seat. BTAC reaches out to those who are less fortunate.”
After listing the dignitaries from City Council, city of Burbank, Burbank Police Department, School Board and others, Hastings asked all for a moment of silence in honor of community volunteer Barbara Sykes, who passed away in February. Sykes gave numerous hours to the Boys & Girls Club and Burbank Coordinating Council, to name a few.
“You can’t fill her shoes,” he said. “We’ve lost a great member of our community. I ask you tonight to look around the room and pick out 10 or 20 people who could fill her shoes. God bless her soul — Barbara Sykes.”
Ron Cogan, board of directors chair, said what a joy it was to be in a room surrounded by 300 or 400 people who will come together for the sole purpose of making our world a little better. He also sent out kudos to Chief Executive Officer Barbara Howell and her staff.
“They pull off the work of a crew two or three times their size,” he said. “I don’t know how you guys do it!”
Cogan thanked the crowd for giving “certainty” to people who are lacking it when it comes to essentials — a home filled with food and other needs.
BTAC Volunteer Terry Hassman-Paulin told the crowd how she started her second career after retiring from Kaiser Permanente. At the beginning, she feared she wouldn’t be able to relate to the clients and be compassionate to their needs.
“But after a few weeks of service I began to see that what we share as human beings is greater than our differences,” she said. “They have hopes and dreams as much as we have.”
She shared a story about a man in his 20s who came to the center with just a backpack. After an interview, they gave him a sack lunch and some clothing and he met the job counselor who laid out a long range of options for short-term work and long-term career development.
“So in the course of a couple hours, this young man went from homeless and hopeless to someone with options and hope,” she said. “To me this was at least a minor miracle.”
Volunteering, she said in closing, is a “humbling and wonderful experience that I recommend to you all!”
Hastings conducted the official recognition portion of the evening, thanking the Cusumano family for the many organizations they support in the community, such as BTAC, Family Service Agency, Boys & Girls Club, Memorial Field, public and private schools and Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.
“They are not just contributors, they are substantial stakeholders in everything that they do within this community,” he said.
Chief Executive Officer Howell said that when she approached the Cusumano family about being honored, they said no, that it has to be the Cusumano Real Estate Group because it takes everyone there to make it successful.
“When I was at their offices a few weeks ago, I realized we were honoring the Cusumano family because all the employees feel like they are family,” she said. “I just want to say thank you for all you do for the community, for us and the advice and the warmth you have given BTAC.”
Representing the family was Michael Cusumano.
“This honor is even more special to be given in front of a full room of people we’ve known for many years, for decades and that we love and respect,” he said.
He thanked the many people for filling the room in support of BTAC — a mainstay in the community for more than 40 years, which serves as a safety net for those in need.
“We are so fortunate to have this organization and we feel so fortunate to be a part of it and be able to support that community,” Cusumano said. “BTAC is more than just an organization, it is a group of fantastic people, employees, CEO, their fantastic volunteers, wonderful board of directors and donors who make it possible for them to do what they do in the community.”
Cusumano made special mention of longtime board member Darryl Forbes, who missed the dinner due to illness. Forbes joined the Burbank Fire Department in 1966. Over his 34-year career, he advanced through the ranks going from firefighter, engineer, captain and battalion chief and retired as fire marshal in 2000.
“Forbes represents so much of what BTAC is,” he said. “He has been with the organization since the beginning. The firefighters played a huge role in creating BTAC in the 1970s and Darryl has for 40 years been a big part of this organization and a board member for 17 years.”
Cusumano also thanked Michael Walbrecht for serving on so many boards in town including BTAC.
“For as long as I can remember, he has been a guiding light at BTAC,” he said.
Cusumano also lauded the work of CEO Howell.
“There is no more committed a person in this community than Barbara Howell,” he said. “And over the past years I have worked with her, I have walked away from every community meeting in awe. She loves this community. She loves others more than herself. She has hundreds of clients and each one of them is an important person to her.”
He added how proud he is that so many Cusumano employees volunteer in so many capacities, including Jessa Freemyer, a volunteer with Burbank Noon Rotary and Leadership Burbank Alumni Assn.; Renee Johnson, who gives to Family Promise of the Verdugos and Leadership Burbank Alumni Assn.; and Barbara Bartman, who dedicates time to the Burbank Veterans Committee, Burbank Historical Society and Burbank On Parade.
Michael also recognized the founders of the company — his uncle Roger Cusumano and father Chuck Cusumano. He also introduced his brother, Charlie, who also works in the company; his is mother Diane and Roger’s wife Evelyn.
Proceeds from the gala help BTAC provide assistance to the homeless as well as those who just need help getting back on their feet after a layoff, Howell said. Someone might need job training. Others might need help playing their utilities or partial rent until they get another job. Proceeds also cover BTAC’s utility bills. For example, electricity is needed to run commercial refrigerators and freezers to store the food. Gas and water are needed to provide showers and laundry facilities for the homeless at the center.
“So proceeds will help BTAC better serve and reach more people,” Howell said.
A little known fact is that BTAC’s client base is only 10% homeless, she added. There are invisible thousands who come to get groceries, meet with case managers, receive help with paying their bills, find affordable housing, a second job or better paying job.
“By far the bulk of our time is spent helping people from becoming homeless,” she said.
Howell introduced her staff, Andrea Alejandre, Catherine Bourgeois, Francesca Gallard, Lucretia Rimmer, Edward Stapleton, Kelley Tabor and Alyson Westfall.
Serving on the dinner committee were Dee Call, Kimberley Clark, Jessa Freemyer, Maddy Horne, Nancy Gams Korb, Silvia Mancini, Linda Noel, Leslie Smith, Lauri Veverka and Vicki Williams.
The live auction item that brought the most excitement was a rescue dog –a 10-week-old Yorkie Terrier named Captain. His life will be filled with magical moments because he went home with Mike Thomas and his wife, Jamie Keyser Thomas from Disney Studios.
Mary Daly of Burbank won a three-month membership to the Burbank Community YMCA.
“I was hoping to start exercising so now I’m forced into it,” she said with a laugh.