Hundreds of business and community leaders as well as caring residents filled the banquet hall at Temeku Hills on Friday, Sept. 18, in support of Rancho Damacitas, a non-profit providing children & family services during the second annual fundraising event.
The Jim Fullner Visionary Award, named for the man who founded the program thirty years ago to help a few troubled girls, was awarded this year to Trish Shea, an elementary school teacher in the Temecula Valley Unified School District. Shea grew up with girls in the foster care system and her experiences – good and bad – inspired her to be an advocate for foster youth throughout Southern California. Her story brought the audience to their feet.
Youth speaker Alex Kehrli also moved the crowd to its feet as he told his story of being born into a family that abused drugs and alcohol, of caring for his siblings – two with special needs and learning challenges – and of being separated and placed in the foster care system. Alex is now a college student studying computer science, partially supported by Rancho Damacitas scholarships, and looking forward to a life filled with hope and the dream of giving back. He credits the Rancho Damacitas program and his foster mom for his life and opportunity today.
Greg McGuff, Vice President of Lennar Homes, shared an update on Project Independence, a Rancho Damacitas program to help former foster youth transition successfully into adulthood. Currently the program is serving six young adults. Lennar has provided a unique house design for that purpose and is seeking others to help make the dream design a reality through donated materials, labor and finances.
A number of local organizations also presented significant checks, including Southwest Healthcare Systems and Pechanga. Sponsors Fieldstead & Company, Lennar, Rancho Christian schools, Paradise Chevrolet and Abbott made the event possible.
Keynote speaker, Mark Anderson, a former Olympic Decathlete Champion inspired the audience with his story, “Set Your Sights Higher.”
Anderson said he was “discovered behind a six-pound tumor as a two-pound surprise that was not expected to live.”
Anderson and his family survived many years with an abusive father. His track career happened because a coach noticed him sitting on the bench of the football team and over the course of high school and college. Many people “inspired” him, he told the crowd.
Anderson explained the acronym N.I.C.E. – Notice, inspire, Care, Empower, then challenged the audience, “whatever you are doing, you can do more. Set your sights higher,” he said.
Rancho Damacitas’ mission is “to end the cycle of child abuse by providing comprehensive care and compassion for abused and neglected children and young adults through life-enriching opportunities and strength-based solution-focused programs and services.”
Their core program is a home-based residential campus consisting of six homes each with a two-parent host family and six foster youth. Rancho Damacitas has served over 4000 children since 1983. Last year, 100 percent of Rancho Damacitas senior students graduated from high school. They also have Project Independence as well as a Children’s Enrichment Fund and a scholarship program.
Rancho Damacitas is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is still accepting pledges and donations, call (951) 302-2317; or visit the nonprofit online at www.4kidsfirst.org/donate-today. They also welcome volunteers and have projects available.