Celebrity-attended Malibu gala fundraiser celebrates mothers

Best Buddies attendees dance and sing along with artist Brandy at the gala on Sunday, May 8. Photo by Julie Ellerton.

A long line of cars waiting for valets on Pacific Coast Highway signaled a return to pre-pandemic life in Malibu — springtime fundraisers are back. The nonprofit Best Buddies’ Celebrating Mothers event was the perfect gala to usher in the season. 

At the gorgeous La Villa Contenta estate, 350 people gathered to raise money for Best Buddies International founded by the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her son Anthony. Eunice Shriver, who also founded Special Olympics, fought for the rights and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). That’s a mission for Best Buddies that provides friendship, social activities and integrated employment and leadership development for people with IDD.

Actress Vivica A. Fox, who emceed the star-studded event, spoke of “lending a hand” to those who are often ignored or neglected even though they have many talents and gifts to offer. 

One of those talents was Best Buddies Ambassador Marlana VanHoose, who wowed the supporters in attendance with her powerful singing voice and talent playing keyboards. VanHoose has cerebral palsy, is blind and was given a dire diagnosis of survival after birth. Now she’s entertaining crowds at prestigious venues from Carnegie Hall to the NBA Finals. Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Brandy had a tough act to follow after VanHoose’s rousing performance.

The seaside venue, the expansive lawn of La Villa Contenta, was filled with activities to entertain the many children and young adults with IDD in attendance. All the activities, including photo booths, petting zoos, bubbles, crafts and makeup stations, encouraged connection and participation between buddies and volunteers to build socialization and friendship.

That spirit was important to the event’s hostess of many years, philanthropist Liane Weintraub. 

“The whole premise of Best Buddies is the idea of facilitating friendship and support for people who don’t always naturally find that,” she said. “Creating a community, Best Buddies is a huge community, now international. This community is fueled by in-person experiences.” 

Weintraub praised the organization for allowing an opportunity for those involved to thrive and helping with “employment opportunities that aren’t readily available all the time.” 

Best Buddies has chapters in high schools, including Malibu High School, where students offer social interaction and friendship with other students with disabilities or challenges.

Weintraub’s daughter, Ava, a senior in high school, although not at MHS, said often teenagers think of volunteering as a “chore.” But for the 17-year-old, “Best Buddies has never been that for me. Volunteering has opened my eyes to see a whole other perspective on what people go through and how they can persevere,” she said.

The 2022 Best Buddies Mother of the Year award was given to Madeline Borkin whose son has Down’s syndrome. When her son was born, she said she was only told about the limits he would face in life. Through Best Buddies she now says he has “unlimited opportunities and possibilities.” 

Actress Maureen McCormick, best known from “The Brady Bunch” has been a supporter from the beginning. She was even involved with Special Olympics founded by Eunice Shriver decades ago. 

“I had the honor of meeting her many times,” McCormick said.

The actress is the conservator for her brother, who has intellectual disabilities. She said when her sibling was born, doctors told her parents that he should be institutionalized. Her father who was a school teacher at the time wouldn’t have it. 

“My father was out there fighting the good fight in the San Fernando Valley and Burbank area,” said McCormick, who recalled her father “actually went back to school to become a special education teacher. So, I grew up with that. My father said, ‘Nobody is fighting for their rights. I want to learn everything I can.’” McCormick’s brother has participated in Best Buddies and praised its programming. 

“Whenever we feel we’re in a group where we belong, that’s everything. It’s all about inclusivity. I believe that people with intellectual disabilities should be a part of everything in society,” she said stressing the word “everything.” “I think that makes us a better society. It makes us more kind, more loving, because I truly believe we have so much to learn from these people. I know that my brother has made me a much better person and I am so incredibly lucky to have him in my life.”