An afternoon of art, hope, healing

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    The 2002 Cindy Landon Luncheon Committee recently gathered to plan the ninth annual Landon luncheon to benefit Free Arts for Abused Children, which will take place April 24 at Hazard Ranch in Malibu. Pictured, from left: Jean Curtis, chair; Lee LaPlante; Susan Gordon; Tally Wilmont; Kate Barnholtz; Karen Bredice; Karen Pankow; Gale Loof; Rosemarie Boerger, Free Arts executive director; Elda Unger, founder; and Jimmy Stewart.

    Cindy Landon to host Free Arts fundraiser at Hazard Ranch.

    By Kim Devore/Staff Writer

    Eighties rocker Pat Benatar has added a special appearance to her busy schedule. The four-time Grammy winner will be singing the praises of young people as the featured performer at this year’s Free Arts for Abused Children fundraiser.

    Benatar and husband Neil Giraldo count themselves among the organization’s many local supporters.

    “Neil and I have chosen to be involved because we love kids,” Benatar explains. “We are happy to be activists in the fight to protect children at risk.”

    Every year, the organization hosts an elegant party, fashion show and musical program on the grounds of Hazard Ranch in Serra Retreat. Once again Malibuite Cindy Landon will host the event. Landon, wife of late actor Michael Landon, serves on Free Arts honorary board along with high profile pals like Martin Sheen, Michael Crawford and Sen. Dianne Feinstein. It’s the largest annual fundraiser for the organization, which helps thousands of forgotten children to grow and develop through artistic expression.

    Free Arts was launched more than 20 years ago by art therapist Elda Unger. It is driven by a simple philosophy that art can heal. Its mission is to bring joy and hope to abused, neglected and abandoned children who have little to celebrate.

    Free Arts volunteers like Jean Curtis have witnessed the results first hand.

    “When you meet these children they seem very unhappy and withdrawn,” she says. “They are not used to being around loving, caring adults who take an interest in them and don’t have their own agenda.”

    Whether it’s dance, music or painting, the Free Arts program encourages children to work through their pain, fear and frustrations by creative means.

    Sometimes the work requires patience, but for Curtis, the payoff makes it all worthwhile.

    “It takes time to gain their trust,” she explains. “But once that happens, they respond so quickly. They just delve into these fun, wonderful projects. They lose their troubles and that’s so rewarding.”

    The organization has gained national attention and new chapters are opening up across the country. But the group’s oldest friends are in Malibu where Free Arts first started.

    “It’s really thanks to the people of Malibu that we’re where we are today. We have so many talented, creative people here and they really understand the healing benefits of the arts.”

    Over the years, Curtis and her friends have watched the program grow and expand.

    “We now help 46,000 kids,” she says. “You see them having fun, laughing and most of all, you see the smiles on their faces. That’s what makes it so gratifying for all of us.”

    The Ninth Annual Cindy Landon Luncheon to Benefit Free Arts for Abused Children will take place at Hazard Ranch on April 24. More information can be obtained by calling 310.313.4278.