Guests found shelter under a canopy of oak trees as rain fell last Saturday afternoon, but no one seemed to mind as those who attended the Hillside House Sunset Soiree were treated to inspirational guest speakers as enchanting as El Mirador Estate’s gardens themselves.

Hillside House board president Jim Wolfe thanked the crowd and paid tribute to the late Jack Carlson, a board member at Hillside House for more than 14 years who died April 24. A special thanks and round of applause also went to Lolita “Tita” Mitchell Lanning for her generosity in making El Mirador Estate available for the event.

“We couldn’t hope to duplicate this kind of place anywhere,” Wolfe said. “Tita has been so special in making this available to us.”

Wolfe then introduced Sydney Tredick as the new president of the Assistance League of Santa Barbara and asked her to stand as well for a moment of recognition.

“The Assistance League has provided over 55 years of invaluable service to Hillside House,” Wolfe said.

Norris Goss, board vice president, and Curt Lauber, Hillside House’s development director, were also complimented for their efforts in arranging the event.

Hillside House executive director Pam Flynt Tambo thanked the sponsors and guests for their continued generosity over the years.

“We have been very fortunate that people like you reach out to care for our residents because they need special care in order to thrive,” she said. “Because of you we’re able to offer innovative programs like horseback riding, aquatic therapy, adaptive gardening and more. Our 59 residents have the opportunity to develop their abilities and pursue their dreams.”

Marlene and George Riemer also received appreciation for an annual endowment gift to Hillside House managed by the Santa Barbara Foundation.

“This kind of outstanding generosity and future planning is so essential to Hillside House’s long-term stability, and we are very grateful to the Riemers for leading the way,” Tambo said.

Dinner followed as the Rev. Dave Goss graced the audience with the “Prayer of St. Francis.”

Gerd Jordano presented the 2011 Person of Purpose Award to Gayle Slate, who in 1958 with her husband, Don, brought their 2-year old daughter, Dana, born with cerebral palsy, to Hillside House. Dana’s life proved to be a catalyst for Gayle Slate, who led the way in specialty counseling for families of children with disabilities and also founded Kids Included Together (KIT), a national nonprofit organization that trains community groups to include children with disabilities in existing child-care programs and has recently expanded to include Armed Forces Worldwide.

“Dana’s birth and death was the beginning of a personal journey from heartbreak to healing,” Jordano said. “Gayle made choices that led her to making a positive difference for thousands and thousands of children with or without disabilities — that is her legacy.”

The rain slowed to a gentle drizzle during a live auction hosted by Erin Graffy with items that included a private tour of Rancho del Cielo, President Ronald Reagan’s ranch west of Santa Barbara, and an elegant dinner at Laurie and John Tilson’s Montecito estate.

Rain picked up again as dessert was served, but the crowd was filled with enthusiasm as guest speaker Jessica Cox came to the podium. Cox, who was born with no arms, stood proudly under an umbrella as she addressed the crowd and shared an array of stories about her incredible life and numerous accomplishments as an airplane pilot, TaeKwon-Do black belt, surfer, scuba diver and piano player.

“I don’t use the words ‘I can’t’ in my vocabulary,” Cox said. “Whatever you envision, you can accomplish.”

All of these moments helped reinforce the need for Hillside House’s first-ever fundraiser, as described by volunteer Jessika Cardinahl, whose 24-year-old daughter, Sophie, has lived at the facility for 10 years with a genetic disorder called Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome.

“Hillside House has given Sophie a home she can thrive in and be happy,” Cardinahl said. “Under the guidance of program director Gail Metzger, my daughter has excelled, and I feel at peace knowing she is in the best hands possible.”

Sponsors for the event were:

» Gold Sponsors: Tita Lanning, MarBorg Industries, Marlene and George Riemer, Marcia and Jim Wolfe

» Silver Sponsors: Channel Cat Charters, Silvio DiLoreto, Norris and Barry Goss, Ray Hunter, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust

» Bronze Sponsors: Earl Armstrong, Louise and David Borgatello, Maureen and Hank Bowis, Bryant & Sons Jewelers, Susan and Jim Chapman, Federal Drug, Lynn Jones, Melville Vineyards and Winery, Richard Monk, Niner Wine Estates, Marjorie Petersen, Nancy Read, Sun Valley Resorts, Laurie and John Tilson, Venoco Inc, Erik Wipf, Young America’s Foundation

» Event Sponsors: Best Western Pepper Tree Inn, Brighton Collectibles, Jessika Cardinahl, Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore, Gainey Vineyards, Halper Fine Art, Herban Essentials, Terry Honikman, Montecito Hills Winery, Parameters Custom Framing, Por La Mar Nursery, San Ysidro Ranch, Simpson House Inn, Valley Flowers, Wayne Kjar Cakes

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