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At this year’s Annual Orange County Gala, the evening began with a warm welcome from actors Oscar Nuñez and Ursula Whittaker sharing why they said yes to being Masters of Ceremonies for this very special occasion.

“I know what it’s like to flee my country of origin as a child. I know what it’s like to come to the United States and not speak English, not be able to speak up or advocate for myself. Being here tonight, among all of you, the incredible army fighting for justice, truly inspires me.” (Oscar)

“For me, this was an easy ‘yes.’ I know firsthand what it’s like to be unheard and unseen. I know what it’s like to feel isolated by the shame and fear that comes from violence in one’s home. Being here with Oscar and all of you tonight to raise money for women who need that helping hand, that was a joyous yes.” (Ursula)

They went on to acknowledge the long, winding road of a journey to justice with bumps and curves ready to catch us off guard. But, they asked, how wonderful is it to travel together? To know that we are surrounded by others who envision a world of equality and opportunity and are ready to stand up and fight for all women and girls to achieve their dreams of greatness.

After sharing with the audience the multiple ways to give that evening – a Heads or Tails: Game of Chance, a live auction, a silent auction, a Fund-A-Need segment, and of course, regular old checks in envelopes – Oscar and Ursula went on to introduce the Gala’s incredible co-chairs Christine Hallen-Berg, Tijana Hamilton, and Sarah Vanderveen.

Christine highlighted to the audience the instrumental role they continue to play in Tahirih’s growth and impact, helping the San Francisco Bay Area office (closest in proximity to Orange County) serve 400 women and girls and educate close to 2,000 front-line professionals and community leaders each year. Tijana honored the 2019 Champions of the Year, Suzy and Jeff Elghanayan, who have helped raise awareness of Tahirih’s mission and the women and girls we serve through events in their homes and across California, bringing people together to share and to act in support of equality and justice. And finally, Sarah disclosed how repeatedly struck she is by the strength, resilience, and steadfast resolve of Tahirih’s extraordinary clients, including Aicha Abdoulaye Mahamane, who would then take the stage to share her story of surviving decades of abuse.

Welcoming back the audience after a delicious dinner, Oscar and Ursula ushered guests through Heads or Tails – a game of chance to win two front orchestra tickets to Hamilton: An American Musical in Los Angeles!

Immediately following, our prepped and ready Masters of Ceremonies hosted an exciting live auction featuring items such as a diamond necklace and cufflinks that were exclusively designed for Tahirih by Lugano Diamonds, a private dinner and wine pairing for 10 by Chef Diego Velasco, a six-night seven-day stay in Cape Cod complete with a private beach, and autographed memorabilia and private skate session with professional skateboarder Nyjah Huston. The winners were thrilled and the funds raised were grand!

Also taking place throughout the evening was an enticing silent auction that included a getaway in Barbados, a shoe for all seasons by Jimmy Choo, polo lessons, an evening at the symphony, and beautiful artwork by Sadie Drucker and Iris Bourne.

The finale of the program, and a signature piece of every Tahirh Gala, was the Fund-A-Need segment when Oscar and Ursula 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 fleeing 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, internationally applauded pianist, Zura Kobakhidze, performed a piece from his new album “Sapiens” as well as a live composition, special for the Gala.

Finally, the totals were tallied, and Oscar and Ursula announced to the crowd that over $445,000 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.

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