Open Hearts Foundation’s gala raises funds, celebrates charity partners

Jane Seymour's Open Heart Foundation 2024 Gala

Online auction allows donors from all over the world to participate and support the charity 

By Barbara Burke 

Special to The Malibu Times

“Open Hearts is a movement … and we’re moving,” founder Jane Seymour of Malibu told a celebratory crowd at the very well-attended nonprofit organization’s annual celebratory gala on Feb. 17 at Calamigos Ranch. “We are a small foundation with an enormous mission, supported by like-minded people working together for the greater good.” 

It was an evening celebrating Open Hearts’ 14 years of empowering the ever-growing number of emerging and growing charity partners the organization supports and the volunteers it inspires worldwide.

To date, the Foundation has awarded more than $1.79 million in grants to more than 60 charities. The Foundation also supports volunteerism globally and, in doing so, it ignites positive change in the world.  

“Your gift will directly impact our mission, helping us to empower emerging charities,” Seymour said. “With your help, we can also inspire volunteers to serve with an open heart.” 

Several charity partner representatives attended the event, including Josh Gezahegn, president of Open Heart’s charity partner, The Volunteer Center South Bay/Harbor/Long Beach. Open Heart’s $12,000 grant enabled the Volunteer Center to give 2,500 low-income first-graders school bags filled with books, science kits, toothbrushes, toothpaste, crayons, math tools, and teddy bears. 

“Open Hearts has been an incredible partner of the Volunteer Center and the more than 48 schools we serve in the South Bay,” Gezahegn said. “It goes beyond grants and sponsorships because volunteering and empathy touch the heart and open the mind.”

The Foundation also recognized Melissa Yeager, who co-founded the Claire’s Place Foundation with her late daughter, Claire Wineland, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in infancy. Claire’s Place has been awarded three grants by Open Hearts and has amplified those donations by having its donors match the grants. 

Yeager was honored with the Open Hearts Award, which was inspired by Jane Seymour’s mother, Mieke Frankenberg, who was a prisoner in an internment camp for three and a half years during World War II. 

“My mother found purpose in helping those around her and she was trained as a Red Cross volunteer,” Seymour said. “She was in charge of the infirmary and would help those who were ill or dying. She taught us that in challenging times, we should find a way to help others — helping others gave her the courage to face the next day.”  

When her daughter Claire died, Yeager could have closed her heart and not continued on with the charity, Seymour noted. Instead, like Seymour’s mother, she faced her adversity, pivoted, and turned her focus toward helping others.  

“During COVID, those with cystic fibrosis were terrified of becoming ill and so they stayed home,” Yeager said. “They desperately needed support and because Open Hearts supported Claire’s Place, we could support them through our COVID Emergency Fund.” 

Claire’s Place supports those affected by CF by providing financial support to families who face extended hospital stays for their family member suffering with CF and by its Work Proudly program which helps those with CF obtain suitable employment, affording them both independence and purpose.

At the Gala, Open Hearts also honored the enormously generous philanthropists Mindy and Glenn Stearns with the Open Hearts Humanitarian award. That recognition celebrates individuals or corporations who live and serve with an open heart in ways that align with Open Heart’s mission.

The Stearns were acknowledged for their helping Open Hearts since its nascent stages, as well as supporting the Horatio Alger Association, the National Parks Foundation, Muhammad Ali’s Parkinson’s Foundation and the MD Anderson Cancer Center, among other charities.

Glenn Stearns shared his rags-to-riches story — he was dyslexic, a poor student, grew up in a dysfunctional home, and became a father when he was just 14. Yet, he overcame adversities and founded highly successful companies in the mortgage and financial services industry. Like Jane Seymour’s mother, Glenn has transformed his life of seemingly insurmountable challenges into a successful life with purpose, including the purposeful support of several charitable efforts. 

The Gala’s inspiring message convinced many attendees that they should open their hearts and commit to be involved in the Open Hearts Foundation. 

“For 13 years, this event has served as my reset when I gather with all of you,” said Master of Ceremonies Christi Paul, anchor of “What’s New” for WKYC in Cleveland. “I leave here feeling more hopeful, stronger and more determined that this is the year of giving.”

The audience responded to Paul’s inspiring message by donating very generously to Open Hearts Foundation. In a fun and very lively auction, attendees bid significant sums for specially curated travel experiences. The exclusive Broadway and Vine experience intrigued many bidders, as did Inspirato for Good’s 7-night luxury exotic island vacation for 10 at an ultimate island location of the winning bidder’s choice. 

Reflecting on the Gala’s success the day after the event, Seymour posted on social media: “Last night’s Open Heart Gala was a profound journey of love and giving. It is a testament to the impact we can make when our hearts unite for a greater purpose.” 

The Open Hearts Foundation online auction allows donors from all over the world to participate and support the charity. The auction showcases many lovely items, including luxury trips, gorgeous artworks and jewelry. The auction continues through Feb. 29. For more information, visit: