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Hollywood Stars Light Up Burbank Gala Event

Helping Hand: Kay with patient at event. What does the “Mentalist” do when he’s not reading people’s minds? He likes to help kids. Simon Baker, star of the CBS crime drama, was one of several celebrity guests who kicked off Mending Kids International’s first “Wings Around the World” gala on Nov. 10. The Burbank nonprofit pays for about 300 surgeries a year in 51 countries to repair heart defects, scoliosis and other deformities. The event was held at the Vibiana venue in downtown Los Angeles and was attended by about 350 supporters, board members and employees. It raised more than $100,000. Attendees contributed to the fundraising in one of three ways: bidding on auction items, making pledges via text message and paying for individual surgeries. The event was decorated with a butterfly motif in line with Mending Kids’ logo which references the “butterfly effect,” or the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world could have a profound effect on the other side, explained Sally Sanders, director of development. “It was decorated beyond imagination,” said Sanders. “What we do here has a profound impact on what is happening in other corners of the world.” The event had several sponsors, including Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Variety magazine. Baker was joined by actresses Kim Coles and Madeleine Stowe, both of whom helped emcee the event. Actor Dominic Scott Kay also attended. Bank and File Some local Bank of America employees decided to do something different this year for Veterans Day. Instead of attending the local parade, they jumped on an assembly line. That is, a line at Operation Gratitude, an Encino nonprofit that sends about 100,000 care packages to veterans, currently deployed military members and their children each year. About 215 employees from the bank’s Southern California branches joined about 400 other volunteers on Nov. 10 to help assemble packages. Altogether about 8,000 were filled with snacks, magazines, hygiene items, handmade scarves and bracelets to be sent throughout the country and to troops in Afghanistan. Each package also included a personal letter. Some of the care packages included iPods and iTunes gift cards, courtesy of a local Bank of America executive who sponsors the bank’s Military Support Affinity Group, which leads several events to serve current and former military personnel. Operation Gratitude, headed by founder Carolyn Blashek, has mailed nearly 900,000 packages since it was established in 2003. Angela Cabrera, a senior manager with the bank in Thousand Oaks, said she’d like to see Bank of America work with Operation Gratitude again. “I definitely see Bank of America lending additional community volunteers, and Southern California to help make that one millionth package happen,” she said. Campaign for the Y Real estate investor Michael Cusumano, a leading Burbank philanthropist, has made his latest donation to the Burbank Community YMCA. The $250,000 donation, made along with other family members, will support the organization’s capital campaign, called Strong Today, Stronger Tomorrow. The campaign will fund construction, including improvements to its gymnasium and welcome center, and the establishment of a diabetes education program. The campaign recently passed the halfway mark to its goal of raising $3 million by June. Other portions of the Cusumano donation are being used for special events put on by the YMCA, including the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5K race, which raised money to pay membership fees for low-income families. Michael Cusumano and his brother Charles run Burbank commercial real estate firm Cusumano Real Estate Group. Other major donors to the YMCA campaign include Warner Bros. and the Vic Georgino family. Doing the Math California State University, Northridge received a $2.3 million grant from Next Generation Learning Challenges in November to support a series of math classes. CSUN’s math department developed the courses five years ago to smooth the transition for students moving from high school- to college level-math, a skill in high demand by businesses. “This is not remedial math,” said Katherine Stevenson, a CSUN math professor. “The courses are designed to get all of our students, regardless of what high school they went to or what resources they had available to them, on a more even playing field.” The Washington, D.C. organization focuses on improving college readiness and graduation rates. Staff reporter Bailey Brewer can be reached at bbrewer@sfvbj.com or (818) 316-3123.

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