On May 13, the University Club was brilliantly transformed into the “Magic Mansion” for a wildly entertaining evening that raised much-needed funds for Unity Shoppe.
The event was the brainchild of Diana Starr Langley, who along with fellow co-chairs John Thyne and Arthur von Wiesenberger, wanted to raise funds for a worthy charity with a fun, unconventional event. So there were no speeches, live auction, or long three-course meal to sit through. Instead, throughout the evening there were amazing magic shows performed in four rooms, roving magicians in other rooms, a scrumptious buffet in another, swanky bars in a couple of others, and silent auction offerings in yet another.
While there were more than 250 guests, the seemingly endless collection of rooms spread over two floors meant there was plenty of room to maneuver, mingle, and experience the world of magic. Comfy lounge furniture in the elegant, spacious living room and dining room and cocktail tables and chairs in the main bar provided ample space for indulging in libations and mingling between acts.
Many of us went into the evening thinking magic was nothing to get excited about, but quickly became fans of this incredible world. The stars here were world-famous magicians from Hollywood’s Magic Castle, all performing contemporary magic tricks. The mindreader Kimberly Bornstein performing with her husband Jeff Bornstein, got the biggest “wow” factor, with Kimberly “connecting” with audience members and revealing facts about them and their possessions that astonished audience members. Other magicians doing very impressive acts included Steve Wastell, John George, Rmax Goodwin, Lou Serrano, and Joe Skilton.
VIPs started the night on a high note, with a thrilling magic show followed by a lesson in how the tricks were performed — quite the edifying and fun experience. As the evening went on, Jason Libs from the Red Piano came on the scene and in his lively, charismatic way, played upbeat tunes in the living room. Some guests enjoyed the performance from the comfort of the elegant lounge furniture, while others took to the dance floor.
A separate magic show for kids was held earlier in the day.
The best part about the event was that it raised much-needed funds for Unity Shoppe, a venerable nonprofit celebrating its 100th anniversary over this past year. The co-chairs selected Unity Shoppe as the recipient because of the critical role the organization plays in assisting low-income people in our community and because of an unfortunate incident that negatively impacted its fundraising efforts last year. At its Telethon, there were technical difficulties which resulted in significantly lower donations. Increased funding is also needed because Unity Shoppe had to move a few years ago, and now has a $1.7 million mortgage to service.
Despite these financial challenges, Unity Shoppe’s lean, dedicate staff and about 1,800 volunteers soldier on to meet its clients needs as best they can. More than 300 agencies refer clients to Unity Shoppe year-round for groceries, household items, professional attire, school clothing and supplies, job training, and long-term disaster recovery assistance. All of this is offered free of charge to qualified clients. By providing a central distribution facility, Unity eliminates duplication of services in our community.
One key feature that sets Unity apart from many similar types of nonprofits is that parents and children shop in a pleasant environment, rather than receiving a handout of pre-selected items. According to Executive Director Tom Reed, the embarrassing realization for clients that “they are suddenly unable to provide for their families robs them of hope. So by offering them choice, that simple concept, their dignity is preserved and the path to self-sufficiency somehow is more possible. The emotional impact does not show up in our statistics spreadsheets, but it matters.”
For the holidays, Unity provides a well-stocked cheerful store for parents and children to select toys, games, and books. All holiday items are new; the clothing and household and school supplies provided the rest of the year are a mix of new and gently-used items.
Unity’s core demographic is the working poor and seniors, though it provides assistance to the homeless in transition, such as those at Transition House and those in the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s treatment program.
Last year, Unity served about 10,000 families and 3,500 seniors and distributed more than $2 million in food and merchandise. In recent years, there has been no let up in referrals from the 300 agencies. In fact, there has been an increase in the amount of services sought by clients.
Unity’s Job Smart Program provides resume assistance, training through its volunteer program, and work clothing. The job training program for years has been providing “on the job” training for high school volunteers in a range of positions at Unity. Recently, it has taken on an increasing number of individuals with physical and mental disabilities. While these individuals require extra training and attention by Unity staff, Unity is committed to including them in its volunteer program. According to Donor Relations Director Pat Hitchcock, “seeing their pride and joy at successfully accomplishing tasks is rewarding for all.”
Those interested in learning more about Unity Shoppe are encouraged to arrange a behind-the-scenes tour of the main facility at the corner of Sola and Chapala Streets. Contact Pat at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805 979 9511. For more info on the web about Unity Shoppe, go to unityshoppe.org.
If you missed the event, don’t despair, the Committee will be doing another Magic Mansion next year, in fact the team has already started the planning.
Send event invites to Gail at email@example.com.
By Gail Arnold