Arianna Huffington speaks at Sack Lunch series

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Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, spoke last week at private Malibu home for the Sack Lunch Series. Photo by Meg Boberg / TMT

The event, during which one woman spoke of how the Venice Family Clinic helped her as she struggled to care for her disabled son, raised money for the clinic.

By Meg Boberg / Special to the Malibu Times

Sprawled out on picnic tables and blankets at Audrey Ruth’s Malibu estate, more than 100 people listened to guest speaker Arianna Huffington at last Tuesday’s Sack Lunch Series event benefitting the Venice Family Clinic.

As president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, author of 13 books and co-host of NPR’s “Left, Right and Center,” Huffington is the kind of prominent woman that the Sack Lunch Series organizers invite to their events, in which all proceeds go directly to the clinic.

The Venice Family Clinic is the largest free health care clinic in the nation, providing comprehensive primary health care to more than 24,000 patients per year.

Huffington developed a personal connection to the clinic when her youngest daughter volunteered there. Her daughter suffered from an eating disorder and Huffington thought it would be helpful for her to start volunteering to put her problems in perspective and it would give her more of a sense of purpose.

“There was nothing I could say to her or preach to her that would communicate the experience of people suffering and what people go through,” Huffington said of the importance of her daughter’s experience at the clinic. “The fact that she had to constantly keep that in mind in order to keep her own problems in perspective. I recommend to everyone who’s going through every kind of psychological problem to try to cure it by giving back.”

Before Huffington spoke at the event last week, Alice Manning gave her story about her connection to the clinic.

Manning’s 8-year-old son Aidan suffers from cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder stemming from a massive stroke he suffered as a newborn from a bacterial blood infection. The mother of four had reached the end of her rope, struggling to care for her disabled son as the bills piled up and her family lost their insurance. Having no other resource, she traveled the three blocks from her Santa Monica home to the clinic, where she and her son were provided with medical care and counseling.

Since her son has been a patient at the clinic, which she calls “a well-oiled machine,” citing its numerous services from dental work to psychological assistance, she has started a one-woman comedy show called “Stronger than the Wind” at the Santa Monica Playhouse.

“I feel incredibly grateful to the Venice Family Clinic for being my ‘mommy’ and taking care of me and bringing me back to strength,” Manning said. “If that can happen to me, it can happen to anybody.

“When you’re giving to the Venice Family Clinic, you’re helping thousands and thousands of people who have dreams just like I do and who want to give back to society.”

The health care clinic, which was founded by Phillip Rossman, M.D., and Mayer B. Davidson, M.D. and operates with the help of more than 2,000 volunteers and donations and contributions from hospitals, laboratories, specialty-care providers and pharmaceutical companies, provides comprehensive primary health care, specialty care, dental care, mental health services, health education and child development services to low-income people.

Huffington, 60, said Manning’s story will be featured on a new section of the Huffington Post called “Breakover,” a play on the word “makeover.”

“We need to show people that after breaks, or terrible things, we can get up and move on and write a comedy show and all the other things you are demonstrating can be done,” she said.

Another key message of Huffington’s speech last week was to continuing to try and succeed after failing.

“Discouragement is the only enemy we have,” she said, pointing out that her second book was rejected by 36 publishers before it was accepted.

“It’s almost like we’re living in a split-screen world: on one side of the screen is incredible suffering around the world and the disappearance of the American dream as millions of people who graduate from college can’t get jobs,” Huffington said. “On the other side of the screen is a parallel explosion of giving of passion and generosity and creativity.”

With donation tables set up at the event, photos of clinic patients were displayed, along with examples of how a particular monetary donation can help. Examples provided included a $10 donation going toward the pediatric literary program, all the way up to a $2,000 donation, that would go to family health care.

“It’s a collective effort of people on the Westside to support monetarily and with time,” said Venice Family Clinic CEO and Executive Director Elizabeth Forer.

Forer said in-kind donors provide approximately $11.3 million in free medications and approximately $2.9 million in radiology, laboratory, surgical, emergency and other clinic services, as well as supplies and malpractice insurance. The annual operating budget of the Venice Family Clinic is $21.8 million. The Sack Lunch Series has generated $40,000 in pledges and donations for the clinic.

More information about the Venice Family Clinic, including ways to make a tax-deductible donation, can be obtained by visiting www.venicefamilyclinic.org. More information about the Sack Lunch Series can be obtained by visiting sacklunchseries.com