Nostalgic night raises funds to help homeless

Scot Bruce Band Entertains guests during fundraiser for Family Promise.( Photo by Ross A Benson)

Cool cats and their kitties shed their quarantine coats and headed for the Starlight Bowl on Saturday night for the Family Promise of the Verdugo’s Seventh Annual Gala.

The 1950s theme, “Shake, Rattle & Roll at the Starlight Bowl,” was a clever way to incorporate the socially distanced event. Burbank Park and Recreation staff and Family Promise staff ushered 139 cars, SUVs and trucks into the parking lot and placed them about six feet apart, facing a temporary stage and huge monitor, just like in the days of the drive-in theaters. People remained in their vehicles, leaving only for restroom breaks. A health inspector was on site making sure the rules were being followed.

Guests had picked up their boxed meals at Burbank’s First United Methodist Church and then drove up the hill to the bowl. Volunteers took photographs of guests in their cars as they arrived. Everyone received a colorful orange goody bag, courtesy of Logix Federal Credit Union, filled with a Sugar Daddy pop, red licorice stick and other ‘50s candy, hand sanitizer, face mask, and keychain flashlight.

Albert Hernandez Executive Director address the gathering ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

The fundraiser benefits families experiencing homelessness. Family Promise assists them to gain independence by transitioning them into permanent housing and employment with support from the community.

Tickets were $150 per person, but several sponsors paid more, said Albert Hernandez, Family Promise executive director. The event grossed $154,000. There were 244 guests attending.

Family Promise is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. In 2010, the program sheltered its first family, Hernandez said. It partnered with local congregations that provided overnight accommodations and meals while homeless families went through the Family Promise 90-day program.

Hernandez has been executive director since 2015. Family Promise took a hiatus in providing services in 2014. The organization was having trouble raising funds, he said.

When Hernandez came aboard, he was the only full-time employee. The only other employee, a case manager, was part time.

“This has been the best time of my life,”  Hernandez said. “I’m honored to have been here for six years.”

For the first five years, the program served 25 families a year. In 2017, that number grew to 75 families a year and today its serves 600 families a year.

“We’ve grown from two employees to now having seven full-time employees and eight part time,” Hernandez said. “In 2015 our annual budget was $150,000. Today our annual budget is $2.1 million.”

Services have expanded to rapid rehousing, transitional housing, homeless prevention and community workshops to help homeless families.

Working with Hernandez to organize the fundraiser were Jessa Freemyer-Markham, gala committee chair; Kathy Sessinghaus, board chair; and a committee of Family Promise staff and Park and Recreation staff.

Honorees were acknowledged for their time commitment and financial donations since the beginning of the organization. Charles “Chuck” Cusumano received the Impact Award and Pat and Laurie Patterson were presented with the Hands-On, Hearts In Award. Guests honked their horns in appreciation for the honorees as they were introduced.

Chuck Cusumano (left) honoree is joined by fellow family members.( Photo by Ross A Benson)

“We really believe in Family Promise,” Pat Patterson said.

Even before It opened, the Pattersons have supported the organization through their local business, Patterson Graphics, their congregation, Burbank First United Methodist Church, and their personal contributions.

Pat Patterson recalled that the couple’s “Family Promise moment” came during an evening when families gathered for dinner and overnight stay at their church. The Pattersons’ noticed a mother and teenage daughter settling down for the night in a corner of an office. They invited the pair to join in the dinner.

They became Family Promise clients and a month later the mother had found employment and the daughter was back in school.

“We’ve been blessed to work with Family Promise,” Laurie Patterson said.

Chuck Cusumano has provided financial assistance as well as guidance to fundraising and organizational structure to Family Promise, Hernandez said.

The Cusumano Family Foundation has donated more than $100,000 to Family Promise over the past 10 years. In addition, the real estate company has approved Family Promise families to live in their apartment communities and those families are thriving, Hernandez said.

When Hernandez came on board In 2015, Chuck Cusumano and the Cusumano Family Foundation donated $25,000 to relaunch the program.

“They were also a phone call away for guidance and support,” Hernandez said. “They have done so much for our organization. They continue to be major sponsors for all the organization’s fundraisers. They also encourage their employees to become involved in Family Promise boards and committees.”

Cusumano said he is impressed with the organization’s commitment to offering a hand up instead of a hand out to those facing homelessness. They are helped with finding employment and have temporary shelter until they get back on their feet.

“It’s been an honor to partner in your success over the years,”

Chuck Cusumano has continued to support his community with major donations to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center. Those projects include the Cusumano Family Neuroscience Outpatient Center at the medical center and the Cusumano Family Radiation Oncology Department at Providence St. Joseph/Disney Cancer Center.

The family has also donated to the Cusumano Family Urgent Care Center at the medical center, which will open in the fall. The family has been the major donor to upgrading the Family Services Agency building and the campaign to rebuild Memorial Field at Chuck Cusumano’s alma mater John Burroughs High School. This year, Chuck Cusumano made a major gift donation to the new Downtown Burbank Boys and Girls Club.

The vibe at Saturday’s gala was total chill. Guests walked their dogs around their cars and children could be heard giggling.

Pat and Laurie Paterson award honorees ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

The box meals guests enjoyed also carried out the ‘50s theme. They were created by Metropolitan Culinary Services, which is owned by Steve Mora, a strong supporter of the organization and chairman of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

Guests had a choice of cold fried chicken, meatloaf sliders or vegetarian sliders along with potato salad and green salad. A variety of desserts included brownies, maple bars and apple strudel squares.

“Steve puts a lot of attention into detail,” Hernandez said. “The ‘50s theme was evident in the checkerboard trays and desserts.”

Mora also provides some of the meals at the congregations for homeless families going through the Family Promise program.

Rockin’ the stage was the Scot Bruce Band, which performed Elvis’ hits. Dressed in a red jacket, black slacks and white tie, lead singer Bruce had down all the King of Rock and Roll’s moves — from swiveling hips to swinging the microphone stand. The band opened with “Blue Suede Shoes” and completed the night with “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog”. Favorite songs received horn honks from those sItting in the driver seats.

Special guests attending were Mayor Bob Frutos and Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes.

The online auction of some 30 prizes ended Sunday and the top two winners were Kelly Pena and Patrick Garney. It was the most successful silent auction in Family Promise history with top prizes including VIP seats to a Clippers game and a seven-day stay in a penthouse in Cabo San Lucas, Hernandez said.

Albert Hernandez, Lisa Donahey, Jessa Freemyer, Kathy Sessingaus. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

The idea for the innovative fundraiser began with Hernandez’s idea to plan an event with music as a major component.

“I’m a believer that music brings people together,” he said.

Board member Jessa Freemyer-Markham liked his idea of having a concert — but in a safe environment, due the CoVid pandemic.

They brought the idea to the committee and the board and it all came together, he said.

The evening was a grand start for local nonprofit agencies looking for ways to get back to normal. Hopefully this event will inspire other organizations to find innovative ways to raise funds for their philanthropies.

JOYCE RUDOLPH can be reached at