One could almost feel the sea breeze as staff and supporters of Burbank Temporary Aid Center gathered at the Castaway to celebrate Jamie Keyser Thomas and Mike Thomas, recipients of the Burbank Top Award for Citizenship.
A luau theme was symbolic for the 14th annual dinner gala as the honorees were married on Maui in 2011. Everyone received a colorful lei as they stepped through the door of the Verdugo Room where they perused opportunity baskets and placed bids on silent auction items.
Proceeds will go to support the good works of BTAC, which provides temporary assistance to 9,000 residents of Burbank who are trying to avoid becoming homeless and more than 300 individuals who are homeless.
Guests moved to the Starlight Room for dinner and program led by Michael Hastings who took the reins as master of ceremonies. It took Hastings several minutes to bring the proceedings to order and he joked throughout the evening that no one is able to command attention of an audience like retired NBC/Universal executive Jack O’Neill.
In kicking off the program, Hastings referred to the proverb “There but for the grace of God go I” in reminding all to count their blessings because many people in Burbank don’t have the things we take for granted.
“We’re here to celebrate those people’s lives, bring them out of the place they are and that’s why we are here tonight to celebrate them so we can continue to bring them from the places they are,” he said.
Ron Cogan, BTAC board chair, relayed statistics on the increase of homeless people coming to BTAC for services over the last 10 years. In 2007, there were about 100 homeless people coming to BTAC and now there are 325 homeless people coming for services. Client showers at BTAC have increased from 20 showers per month 10 years ago to 27 showers per day. The client laundry has increased from 15 loads per month to 12 loads per day.
“The reason I bring this all up is because everyone knows all these programs cost money and that’s why this evening is such a vital source of fund raising,” he said. “We are so grateful for the amounts you’ve spent on tickets and the auction but we need you to help spread the word. To maintain the growth we have been seeing and keep up with the demand, we need to raise more funds every year.”
Following dinner, Hastings acknowledged “Mr. BTAC” board member Darryl Forbes for his 30-plus years of service.
“He lives and breathes BTAC,” Hastings said. “Hopefully others will follow your lead!”
Hastings then introduced BTAC volunteer Margarita Willen who thanked all for their support over the years.
“If it weren’t for your generosity, I wouldn’t have a place to volunteer,” she said. “I have had the honor of being part of the BTAC family for nearly three years. It’s a short time but every hour that I volunteer I work up a sweat. I work in the pantry services and I work for the best bosses Ed (Stapleton) and Kelley (Tabor).”
She sorts donations, cleans the pantry carts and hands out lunches to the homeless.
Willen joked that volunteering helps her save money.
“I have less time to go to the mall,” she quipped, and then seriously she added, “To me it’s about making Burbank a bit more comfortable for those less fortunate.”
Chief Executive Officer Barbara Howell introduced the staff and acknowledged new employee Francesca Gallard, supervising case manager.
Howell thanked all for attending and reminded them they are providing hope for people who have lost hope.
“I hope that you understand you truly are touching lives of people in a very immediate way,” she said. “A check you dropped off helped a family whose power had been shut off. Or people aren’t going hungry because you did a food drive for them.”
The program ended on a high note with Hastings reading the accomplishments of the honorees.
Thomas is a graduate of Leadership Burbank’s Class of 2007. He also is a member of the Noon Rotary Club, Leadership Burbank Alumni Assn. and Burbank Chamber of Commerce. His business MT Commercial Cleaning serves many business clients and nonprofit organizations in town like BTAC, YMCA, Family Service Agency and Boys & Girls Club.
Keyser Thomas was born at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center and graduated from Burbank High School. Her title at Disney is manager, Disney Corporate Citizenship, Los Angeles Community Engagement. She is a member of the Leadership Burbank Class of 2005 and gives time to Disney Elementary School.
Together the couple donates time to the Leadership Burbank board, Burbank Business Partners board and Rotary projects like Meals on Wheels, Keller Williams’ Thank-a-Soldier event and bell-ringing for the Salvation Army.
“It’s such an honor to be here. This is totally not our comfort zone, but we’re humbled and so appreciative to be celebrated by an organization that means so much to us,” Keyser Thomas said. “It’s great to be in this position to stand up here with my husband, my best friend Mike Thomas.”
Thomas added that his wife pretty much had said it all, but she didn’t mention their dog Murray, the featured rescue puppy at last year’s BTAC gala thanks to Caroline Cusumano. While the couple paid $1,000 during the live auction for the puppy, he’s now cost the couple about $5,500 if you count the leather couch he consumed, the Christmas tree lights and a few pairs of shoes.
“And we would not trade him for anything,” Thomas said.
In closing, he added, “Please BTAC keep up the good work and we will forever support you!”
Some of the city officials attending were State Sen. Anthony Portantino, City Council members David Gordon and Will Rogers, City Clerk Zizette Mullins, City Treasurer Debbie Kukta, City Manager Ron Davis, Police Chief Scott La Chasse, Superintendent of Schools Matt Hill, School Board members Larry Applebaum and Roberta Reynolds.
Linda Noel was chair of the dinner committee, which included Andrea Alejandre, Jennifer Bender, Alethia Calagias, Kimberley Clark, Darryl Forbes, Jessa Freemyer, Maddy Horne, Barbara Howell, Courtney Korb, Nancy Gams Korb, Leslie Smith, Lauri Veverka, Alyson Westfall and Vicki Williams.