Children Lifesaving Foundation celebrates 30th anniversary and founder’s retirement

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(From left) Francesca McCaffery, Maria D'Angelo, and Sean McCaffery are shown at the 30th Anniversary Celebration and Fundraiser of the Children's Lifesaving Foundation. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT

Children Lifesaving Foundation celebrates 30th anniversary and founder’s retirement

Maria D’Angelo will be replaced by her daughter, Francesca McCaffery, as CLF executive director

After three decades of serving and transforming the lives of over 85,000 families, the founder of the Children’s Lifesaving Foundation, Maria D’Angelo announced her retirement. 

The organization celebrated her legacy and the 30th anniversary of the organization with a dinner and fundraiser at Tiato Kitchen and Garden in Santa Monica on Saturday, Dec. 2. Art pieces and gift baskets were up for auction, scholarships were given to well-deserved students, and an opportunity to donate to the organization.

The nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization is dedicated to transforming the lives of underserved youth through a unique approach of providing outdoor education through amazing summer and surf camps, inspiring holiday events, and awesome field trips in and around Los Angeles, and educational assistance and scholarships for youth through to college-age. 

The organization recently held Wilderness Day Camps at King Gillette Ranch and Coastal Eco-Mariners Surf and Beach Camp at Zuma Beach over the summer. CLF provides a great mix of classic camp activities like swimming, arts and crafts classes, special wilderness hikes, and actual live animal workshops. The foundation partners with organizations to provide children with life-changing experiences.

They are also currently providing emergency funding during the COVID-19 crisis to the families in their Vita Network. 

Executive Director Francesca McCaffery and Program Director Sean McCaffery welcomed the guests at the 30th Anniversary Celebration and Fundraiser and thanked D’Angelo, their mom, for all that she has done for the organization. 

“You inspired all of us, we love you so much,” Francesca said. 

Musician and record producer Neil Giraldo was the host of the celebration and fundraiser and introduced the guest speakers.

“It’s really an honor to be here and support your phenomenal organization and you know I’ll do anything for you,” Giraldo said. 

Malibu City Councilmember and former Mayor Paul Grisanti met D’Angelo when he was president of the Kiwanis Club and honored her with a distinguished award.  

“Maria is an angel, I don’t think anyone who’s met her and then walked away and not been captivated by her,” Grisanti said. “The City Council of the City of Malibu thanks Maria D’Angelo for her dedication to Malibu and the surrounding communities and wishes her happiness in her retirement.” 

Special guest speakers included Rodney Early, who shared his personal experience growing up in foster youth and what CLF has done for him.

“You [D’Angelo] said, ‘I love Rodney’s family as my own,’ you said ‘I don’t care what Rodney’s race is, he’s my son,’ you said that,” Early said. 

Francesca McCaffrey said they met Early when he was 14, and now he works for NASA. “He spoke so eloquently about our founder Maria D’Angelo,” she said. 

Chanel Sandoval met D’Angelo when she was 9 years old and now at 37, she continues to talk about how much CLF has impacted her to this day.

“I attribute a lot of what I have in my life, my mindset, where I was to where I am, to you — you changed my life,” Sandoval said. 

The organization also gave out special scholarships in honor of their beloved friends David Weinstein and John Cygan.

David Weinstein was a beloved CLF friend, loving father, grandfather, and husband. His daughter Ellen Poyer presented the award to Nasir Grissom.

John Cygan was an actor and comedian best known for his role in the 1990s police drama “The Commish” and later guest-starred in such shows as “The X-Files,” “Frasier,” and “Modern Family.” Cathy Cygan and her son Jack presented the John Cygan Memorial Scholarship award in his honor to Anais Jimenez. 

“It truly was such a magical evening, and it was amazing that we were able to celebrate with our dear friends and supporters, many of whom have been by our side for these 30 years,” Francesca McCaffrey said. “We had one family who flew in from Texas, one of the very first families the CLF moved into a new home, and it was just absolutely extraordinary to see them, and hear them speak about their experience with CLF.”

During the celebration, guests enjoyed delicious entries from the restaurant and met other people who had been involved or impacted by the foundation. 

“It was just a phenomenal evening, and our host Neil Giraldo was terrific,” Francesca said. “We had such wonderful guests like his wife, Pat Benatar, and the actor, Michael Chiklis and his wife Michelle, who have also been such great supporters. We could not wished for a more wonderful night.”

CLF was also awarded the “Top-Rated Nonprofit” Award for 2023 through great nonprofits. 

The CLF has also sponsored holiday parties for over 15,000 homeless, very low-income, and at-risk LAUSD students. Over 500 children attend the holiday events and receive brand new toys from friends, schools, and businesses who host great toy drives and gift collections, such as JAKKs Pacific, OSEA Skincare, Agape International Spiritual Institute, GoodRX, PJT Partners, FTI Consulting, Northwestern Mutual, RQ Media, and many others.

“What a spectacular evening, celebrating the legacy of my amazing mother Maria D’Angelo, and her 30 years of hard work and dedication to the Children’s Lifesaving Foundation,” Sean McCaffery said. “Can’t wait to see what the future holds for such an amazing nonprofit for underserved children and their families in Los Angeles.” 

Most recently, the CLF received a $15,000 Matching Grant from the Open Hearts Foundation. 

“We will be starting a Holiday Matching Campaign on #GivingTuesday this coming November 28th, and we are so grateful to Jane Seymour and the kind Board of the Open Hearts Foundation, and to ED Trena Pitchford, who works tirelessly to fund initiatives all across Los Angeles that provide relief and healing to underserved youth, families, and individuals,” their website says. 

CLF also offers volunteer opportunities. Students interested in becoming CLF C-I-T (Counselor in Training) can visit childrenslifesaving.org to complete an application.