Inside the twinkling ballroom of the Bacara Resort and Spa in Goleta, celebrities and local folk dined and danced together in a celebration honoring those who make dreams come true. On the evening of Friday, November 18, the Dream Foundation held its annual gala fundraiser, this year honoring fashion designer and philanthropist Donna Karan with a Founders Award.
The Dream Foundation is a locally founded and now nationally recognized nonprofit that funds last wishes and dreams for adults with terminal illnesses. In an introductory speech, Thomas Rollerson, founder and president, dedicated the night to the unsung heroes of the Dream Foundation, these being the layers of managers and PR staff, as well as celebrities such as Pia Toscano of American Idol, Jackson Guthy, and singers Naya Riviera and Amber Riley of GLEE, who graced the stage with their presence and voices. Rollerson made the point that the Dream Foundation has never paid a performance fee. “Perfection is in the heart of those that give,” he said. And it was a night about giving.
The evening began with a chilly cocktail and mingling hour in which guests were allowed to walk the red carpet. Notables included John Paul Dejoria, the billionaire cofounder of Paul Mitchell hair systems and Patron tequila; Pia Toscano of American Idol who expressed how singing in front of Barbra Streisand, an attendee of the event, was a dream come true; Brad Garret from Everybody Loves Raymond; longtime Dream Foundation benefactor Dan Aykroyd; and the woman of honor, Donna Karan, who walked the red carpet with her notoriously camera- and question-shy best friend Barbra Streisand.
In a short interview, Karan said being in Santa Barbara this evening was also a dream come true for her as she was “putting all her worlds together.” Earlier, Karan had been at UCLA medical hospital setting up the second Urban Zen Integrative Therapies (UZIT) program. UZIT trains medical personnel in holistic Eastern healing modalities to complement their Western medical training. These techniques can be used to calm, restore, and relax patients as well as their family members should they desire it. The mission of Urban Zen, Karan said, is to “take care of all patients on all levels.” This is the work she was being honored for by the Dream Foundation.
Inside, guests dined on their first course, a winter squash soup and frisée with candied walnuts salad while Saks Fifth Avenue hosted an exclusive runway show of Donna Karan’s newest collection inspired by the humanitarian work she does in Haiti. Karan hoped her collection would spotlight the importance of preserving culture and creating “conscious consumerism” in which customers “buy a product that can change a life.” Models strutted the runway in urban ethnic chic: sundresses, gowns, and tops in shades of brown, black, and white with stark, swirling, tribal patterns. Main course, roast beef shank and a sweet potato gratin with assorted winter vegetables, followed the fashion show along with dance performances from So You Think You Can Dance finalists and tear-inducing videos of “dreams” granted by the Foundation.
Sweet and humorous, 23-year-old dream ambassador Sarah Parrish took the mic after dinner to tell guests how, as she battled pelvic cancer, the Dream Foundation granted her wish to see a professional Broadway show. “And they not only got me tickets,” she said, “but season passes with awesome seats!” So far she has taken her mother to see the Blue Man Group. “I don’t even know what I can say to do [the Dream Foundation] justice.”
The live action opened with Brad Garret and Dan Aykroyd acting as the impromptu auctioneers while dessert — a trio of chocolate, caramel, and poppy seed cake — was served. “We are the one percent,” cried Aykroyd in his opening statements, “and what do we do? We give back.” He continued commenting on the one percent that was clearly present at the event, considering tickets cost upward of $1,200.
Auction items included several vacation packages to places like Ireland, New York, the Amalfi Coast, and Istanbul. Each sold for between $14,000 and $25,000. Some “priceless” items were also up for auction, including a dinner with Morgan Freeman that sold for $21,000.
Finally, after all items had been auctioned off, the award time came and Streisand took the stage, not to sing but to tell the crowd a bit about her best friend “Donna.” “Donna is the most scattered, disorganized human being,” she said, “and, because of that, I am constantly astounded by all she accomplishes.”
She explained how fitting it was that in 2008 Karan would launch an Urban Zen clinic in husband Steven Weiss’s art studio as he had died of lung cancer seven years earlier. She said Karan seeks to not just “dress people but address them.” As she presented Karan with the award in a testament to their deep friendship, Karan took a few minutes to tell Streisand what she meant to her. “My inspiration is Barbra” she said. “I wanted to be her, look like her, and dress like her.” She thanked the Dream Foundation for honoring her, saying that everyone has dreams, adding that the Dream Foundation is a dream and her dream was to meet Barbra Streisand … which she did. Now she dreams that “each and everyone of us can be cared for.”
Post-award ceremony, the 550-seat ballroom thinned out, but many evening gown- and tuxedo-clad guests stayed to catch the final entertainment of the evening. Grammy award-winning R&B singer Macy Gray stepped onstage, head to toe in sparkles, complete with a large, golden Afro. Her band started up and suddenly the fashion runways were rife with dancing couples. Gray shouted out “Big Congratulations to Tom (Rollerson) and all of you who give all the time” followed by “peace and freedom” which the bobbing crowd dutifully shouted back. After a few more songs with her smooth, tight band and excellent backup singers, the gala event was over.