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The evening began with a welcome from Gala Co-Chairs, Suzy Elghanayan and Sarah Vanderveen, who shared the journey of the organization from a small West Coast Tahirih family to an enlightened community of advocates and supporters.

“Tonight, we honor the incredible courage shown by immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of human rights abuses such as rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation or cutting, forced marriage, honor crimes, and human trafficking. Women who seek out the Tahirih Justice Center because it has proven, time and time again, to be efficient, effective, and mission-driven. It is an organization that faces old and new challenges with tremendous dedication, fearless advocacy, unwavering determination, and absolute refusal to accept the status quo.”

Alongside their husbands, Jeff and David, respectively, they asked the audience to recommit themselves to the outstretched arms of humanity and decency and love.

And what better way to kick-off Tahirih’s Inaugural gala in Orange County, California held on Sunday, September 16 at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, with a crowd of over 200 ready to join Tahirih’s ever-expanding family.

Eva LaRue, actress, philanthropist, and longtime Tahirih ambassador, welcomed supporters, advocates, donors, volunteers, and staff as the first-ever Master of Ceremonies in the OC. Taking her first steps on stage after an inspiring video showcasing the work being done and the clients being served, LaRue addressed the room with a moment of honest reality.

“Let’s be real, I have never faced the kind of strife that Tahirih’s clients experience. These are women and girls who have traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles, sometimes with infants and young children by their side. Women and girls who now face a system of laws that even I don’t completely understand, possibly without knowing the language needed to make it through. I am amazed and humbled every day by their tremendous courage under fire, and I thank you for taking a crucial step, some of you for the first time, in making life-changing impact for those seeking access to the safety and justice to which they are entitled under U.S. law.”

As the evening went on, LaRue ushered guests through a game of Heads or Tails where raffle beads could be purchased for a chance to win two tickets to Hamilton: An American Musical on Broadway in New York City! Also highlighted was an enticing Silent Auction complete with a getaway for two at the Montage Resort, a private ladies night out at Roots Beauty Underground Salon, the VIP treatment at Burberry either in South Coast Plaza or on Rodeo Drive, and more.

And for the first time ever at a Tahirih Gala, LaRue welcomed Co-Chairs Jeff Elghanayan and David Vanderveen on stage to host a live auction featuring items such as a diamond necklace that was exclusively designed for Tahirih by Lugano Diamonds, a private dinner and wine pairing for 10 in your home by Chef Diego Velasco, a Phillip Lim fashion show experience, and even a racecar ride along with Nicolai Elghanayan, a multi-year champion.

The finale of the program, and a signature piece of every Tahirh Gala, was the Fund-A-Need segment when LaRue and Co-Chair Suzy Elghanayan asked guests to dig deep into their hearts and pockets to ensure courageous women and girls receive the protection they deserve. They shared specific services desperately needed by Tahirih clients including legal defense to seek asylum in the U.S., tailored social service case management such as crisis counseling and rental assistance, pay-as-you-go cell phones for women facing forced marriage, filing fees for child reunification, and interpretation services so that legal options may be explained in the language most comfortable. Hands shot up as guests pledged to give whatever they could to transform the lives of women and girls rebuilding their whole world in the wake of violence.

Then, as a special treat while Tahirih’s team tallied up the evening’s fundraising results, violinist extraordinaire Jonathon Shaw played a piece called “Yes”. Taken from a film adaptation of Jane Eyre, the piece’s beauty anchored in its strength, a characteristic of all Tahirih clients being celebrated that night.

Finally, the totals were tallied, and LaRue announced to the crowd that $440,000 had been raised to protect and serve courageous women and girls who themselves are changing the world – one person, one family, and one community at a time.