Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 5:35 am | Fair 48º


Supporters Step Out in Style for Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation’s ‘Saks & The City VI’

Sold-out event features an evening of fashion, pampering and words of inspiration in raising funds for the Santa Barbara nonprofit

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

Saks Fifth Avenue in downtown Santa Barbara hosted another sold-out crowd of nearly 300 stylishly dressed guests for the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation’s Saks & The City VI fundraiser.

The Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, established in 2002 by founder Nikki Katz, is a nonprofit, grassroots organization that aims to assist families of children who have been diagnosed with cancer throughout Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.

TBCF helps with financial assistance to families of low and moderate income to cover basic needs, including hospital vouchers, mortgages, utilities, car payments and hotel accommodations, as well as educational support programs. In 2012, the organization served 151 families and 674 individuals with 54 percent of the families residing in Santa Barbara County.

As the event began, guests explored the Saks store, with some receiving complimentary hair and makeup consultations and massages, and others pampering themselves at spa treatment stations or browsing through the latest spring and summer fashions.

Hank Blanco, TBCF board interim treasurer, attended the event with his daughter Ashley, 24, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 14.

“Thanks to the amazing effort of Dr. Greenfield and his staff, Ashley was able to successfully battle leukemia after 27 consecutive months of chemotherapy and a lot of other procedures,” Blanco said. “So she’s here with us, and we do a lot of work for Teddy Bear and Ashley volunteers.”

Ashley didn’t find out about TBCF until after her treatment but wanted to share her journey and experiences with others, telling Noozhawk how the length of the treatment became “my normal.”

“I guess that’s how I coped with it,” she said. “And the way that I coped with it personally was I tried to not let it define me and not let my diagnosis define who I am. I’m not just Ashley the cancer patient. So I keep a balance of not letting it define me but also not running away from it.”

Guests enjoyed a festive mood within the store for this important cause, visiting photo booths and tarot tables positioned around the first floor, while upstairs more people gathered around blackjack, craps and poker tables.

Event chair Donna Barranco Fisher and vice chair Vanessa Decker must have been thrilled with the turnout, as was Ann Kasper, general manager of Saks Fifth Avenue, who spoke of the ongoing partnership.

“This is a huge event. It really brings out everyone in the community,” Kasper said. “So we fill the store with Teddy Bear and with everyone, and we make it a lot of fun for them so they can shop. There’s so many things going on — incredible volunteers and the majority of the money goes toward the foundation. We couldn’t be happier to participate and support it.”

Jim Bechtel, board president, emphasized the value of the financial assistance that TBCF offers to families and the key funding that the event raises each year.

“The main program that we do is direct financial assistance for our families,” Bechtel said. “Because when you’re caring for a child with cancer, going to work on a regular schedule sometimes gets to be very difficult if not impossible. So things like paying the rent and utilities — even though families want to do that, they sometimes just can’t do it — so we step in and help them do those basic things that keep them going while their child is in treatment.”

Bechtel’s two daughters both had cancer twice, one a survivor and sadly one passing nine years ago, were not part of TCBF or its programs, but the importance of supporting the foundation are highly valued by the family.

Some breathtaking dance performances were followed by welcome messages and the introduction of guest speaker Lacy Taylor, whose son, Wyatt, was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma when he was 8 years old.

There weren’t a lot of indications that Wyatt was sick until a few weeks before he was diagnosed, but after several months of chemotherapy at Cottage Hospital, he’s now had three years of perfect scans.

Although the family faced additional struggles, including the loss of a 15-year business, Anacapa Dive Center, and their home, the Goleta-based family is on a positive path now, with Lacy returning to law school for another career.

TCBF was instrumental in providing financial assistance to the family following the loss of one income. Lacy shared the challenges of coping during these difficult circumstances.

“I can’t imagine going through it, and I went through it — sleeping on a chair six months pregnant in a hospital room every night,” Lacy said. “I don’t know how I got through it, but I can tell you that I did and I don’t remember it being a problem. I just did. I think as parents you just do.”

Auctioneer Billy Baldwin hosted a live auction with items for bid that included a seven-night luxury European river cruise for two, a one-of-a-kind dress worn by pop star Katy Perry in her film Part of Me with a stunning pendant, a four-night stay at Garza Blanca Preserve Resort & Spa near Puerto Vallarta, and an “I Love New York” package with accommodations at the New York Palace Hotel, Broadway tickets, dinner at Cipriani’s and Sardi’s restaurant, and gift cards to Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, plus two round-trip air fare tickets.

A “Raising the Bear” paddle raise and raffle drawing added to what was anticipated to be more than $150,000 in fundraising at the event.

In addition to financial assistance, TCBF provides licensed, bilingual social workers to facilitate family support groups in Santa Barbara, and educational services are available for families to help address their children’s cognitive learning problems, which is a common side effect associated with chemotherapy.

The organization also works with collaborative partners, including Angel Flight West, Eric’s Angels, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Life Chronicles, the National Charity League of Santa Barbara and the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara, in providing emotional and health-care support programs and discussion groups for parents, children and siblings.

According to, about 11,630 children in the United States under age 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2013, and cancer is the leading cause of death in children younger than 15 years old (outside of accidents).

Click here for more information on the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation or call 805.962.7466. Click here to connect with the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation on Facebook, or follow the foundation on Twitter: @TBCF4Kids.

The Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation graciously thanks the sponsors of Saks & The City VI:

» Haute Couture Sponsor: Katherine and Daniel Eades

» Couture Sponsors: Cox Communications, Dr. Robert Kammer, Nina and Eric Phillips and Phillips Acquisitions

» Designer Sponsors: Jim Bechtel, TCBF board president, Stephen Garvey, Brookwood Financial Partners, Shane Mahan, Kitchell Custom Homes, Cynthia and Patrick Murphy, Fireglass, Kyra and Tony Rogers, the Rudi Schulte Family Foundation, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and SB Philanthropy

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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