[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the event.]

Warren Hall at the Earl Warren Showgrounds hosted more than 400 community supporters acknowledging Alpha Resource Center’s 60th diamond anniversary at the Circle of Life 10th Annual Benefit Luncheon, “Stories of Promise 2013.”

The popular event raises awareness for people with developmental disabilities and is considered Alpha’s key fundraising event of the season.

Master of ceremonies Dennis Miller, whose radio show, “The Dennis Miller Radio Show,” is on Westwood One Radio five days a week, welcomed guests to start the day. Miller first volunteered with Alpha in 2006 and continues as both a hands-on volunteer and generous donor.

“When I need a reminder of what’s really important in life, I go see my friends at Alpha,” Miller said.

Miller introduced a singing performance from Katie’s FUNd participant Gabe, 17, a junior at San Marcos High School, with his father, Jerry Donovan, who sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” showcasing Gabe’s passions for both singing and film.

Following this uplifting performance, 20-year Executive Director Kim Olson strode to the stage sharing updates on the organization and introduced a video titled “Circle of Life.”

“This is the 10th anniversary of our Circle of Life luncheon, but we’re celebrating our 60th anniversary of Alpha Resource Center, founded in the early ‘50s,” Olson shared with Noozhawk. “We’ve been dedicated to providing an education for children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families as well as transforming the community so that our folks feel welcome and valued.”

During a lunch of Italian and turkey sandwiches or an optional vegan or chicken salad, guests heard “words from friends,” including Chris Janeway, financial advisor at PlanMember Financial Group, who stepped to the stage for a celebration of his sister Katie’s birthday, 25, and was also deeply proud to celebrate 10 years of Katie’s FUNd.

Janeway shared how each time he attends a Katie’s FUNd event he’s “amazed by the joy, confidence and friendship that the participants build,” and elaborated on the beginnings of this inspirational program.

“When we started Katie’s FUNd, we set out to create an atmosphere where teens with special needs can be themselves,” Janeway said. “The program continued to grow each year, and we’re particularly excited to see so many new faces.”

Janeway shared how this important program not only brings participants “further out of their shells than we’d ever seen,” but is also key for family members, too.

“A parent pulled me aside and thanked me not only for their daughter’s fun trip, but for giving her and her husband their first weekend alone since their 16-year-old daughter was born,” Janeway said. “Katie’s FUNd and Alpha aren’t just vital to the participants, but I realized then, that they are imperative for the families.”

Judi and Shari Zucker, known as the Double Energy Twins and who write books on health and nutrition, became involved in support with Alpha 10 years ago following a loss in the Janeway family.

“We’re here to support the organization because there are so many children who are functioning well and adults who are functioning well, and we want to encourage this, because they can be, and are, very productive people in society,” the said.

Judi and Shari went on to share with Noozhawk what makes the organization so special: “Because the people care so much. When you give in life you get.” 

One of the program’s participants is Rachel MacKenzie, who has been participating in Katie’s FUNd activities for about three years, and the San Marcos High School graduate also enjoys being a star with the summer theater program.

Another recent graduate from Dos Pueblos High School is Jessica Parsons, who is a student at Santa Barbara City College and also loves the stage having been in both Katie’s FUNd and DP High School productions.

Next, messages of “Our Future” were shared by board member and donor Joshua Weitzman, who is also this year’s chair of “Imagine a World,” and part of a team that organizes Alpha’s charity bike ride.

“Consider Yourself” messages were also offered by one of the original members of Alpha’s Performing Arts Troupe, Dennis Subica, and participant Lavena Sutherlin, whose roles have included Auntie Em in The Wizard of Odds.

Parent resource specialist Jennifer Griffin of Alpha Children & Family Services was part of the performance, too, and has been a member of the Alpha community since 2009, following the birth of her son Theo, who was diagnosed with Lennox Gastaut Syndrome. Alpha director of programs Julie Badella accompanied the performance on keyboards.

In 1953, Alpha was founded by three families who desired support for children with special needs, and the organization now serves more than 80 percent of countywide developmental disability children.

Imagine Park is a new project expected to open this month for Alpha with a stage, garden and a relaxing atmosphere nestled within orchards. Another exciting new project opening this month is Slingshot, a new art studio and gallery to provide an art forum for artists with developmental disabilities located at 220 W. Canon Perdido St. Another upcoming new project is the Educational Serenity Garden, to provide an outdoor learning environment with tactile surfaces and water sounds.

In this diamond anniversary year of celebration, Alpha has many exciting events upcoming, including an Open House on May 10, the annual “Imagine a World” cycling classic and family picnic on July 13, AlphaFest at Marjorie Luke Theatre on Oct. 5 and the grand finale “Diamonds and Denim” gala on Nov. 2 at the Carriage Museum

Janeway summed up the warmth of the strong circle that surrounded the day and the organization as a whole.

“Seeing the supportive, unconditional friendships that our teens build through the programs makes me change how I live,” Janeway said. “Being involved over the last 10 years has made me more patient, understanding and much happier. There is no place that will make you feel more at home than Alpha and Katie’s FUNd.”

Alpha graciously thanks the sponsors of the 2013 Circle of Life luncheon:

» Union Bank / Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, McGowan Guntermann, Bartlein & Company Inc., Santa Barbara Fuel Dock, San Felipe Supported Living Inc., Barrie & Arlene Bergman, Barry, Charla & Scott Dufour, Eleanor K. Van Buren, W.S. Morwin, McCormix, Harbor Office Solutions, Moore Connections, Por La Mar Nursery, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and La Tavola.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.