The Alliance for Children’s Rights annual fundraiser benefit kicked off with a bang Monday night as students from the Virgil Middle School’s drumline welcomed guests with a performance.
After the presentations began, there wasn’t a dry eye in the packed Beverly Hilton ballroom, as Alliance clients — both children and adults — took to the stage to tell their stories about how the Alliance changed their lives. Nathen Garson, a 12-year-old with whom the Alliance has worked to formalize an adoption, told how he and his dad, actor Willie Garson (“Sex and the City,” “White Collar”), celebrated his adoption. Instead of going out for hot dogs like he wanted, Nathen’s father took him to a “fancy” restaurant where they could eat steaks and order Shirley Temples with five cherries.
As a “thank you” Nathen presented his dad with the Francis M. Wheat Community Service award. The elder Garson graciously thanked the room’s entertainment community for consistently hiring him, and thus giving him a voice. “You have all hired me in this room … I’ve been here forever,” Garson joked. “Dick Wolf, still nothing.”
His speech then took a more serious tone when he implored his community to give back to kids who need it, such as Nathen once did.
“Every single one of you by being here is giving sunshine, you’re filling up those who deserve it and you’re spreading it around,” he said. “That’s all we can do while we’re here.”
Later in the evening, Jimmy Kimmel and Maria Shriver presented the National Champion for Children Award to Anne Sweeney, the outgoing president of Disney/ABC Television Group. Since Sweeney will soon depart the Mouse House to become a TV director (and will therefore no longer be Kimmel’s boss), the latenight host felt he was in the clear to roast her career aspirations.
“Anne looked around her and realized that Hollywood was running dangerously low on directors, so she decided to do something about it,” Kimmel quipped. “And she said she’s willing to start at the bottom to learn the ropes, so if anyone here has a Bar Mitzvah or a birthday party, the soon-to-be former president of ABC is available.”
Shriver, on the other hand, was a little more sentimental in her speech about Sweeney and the Alliance. She talked about the “bright shining light” that Sweeney has been on Shriver’s life after 20 years of friendship.
When Sweeney accepted her award, she talked about how Disney has heroes like caped crusaders who seek justice. But the heroes at the fundraiser dinner weren’t of the fictional variety; they were Deborah and Zachary, two people who chose to adopt a little girl named Desiree.
“Now Disney is known for telling stories that inspire — that give hope,” Sweeney said. “But Deborah and Zachary, you inspire me.”