Family life on LA's Westside


Fashion luncheon honors Marlo Thomas and raises funds for Children’s Insitute

Children’s Institute fashion luncheon raises funds for early education, behavioral health and family strengthening services

By Ryan Imondi, writer for Children’s Institute

Honoree Marlo Thomas

Last week, actress, author and philanthropist Marlo Thomas was honored with the Champion of Children Award at the 31st Annual Colleagues Spring Luncheon, benefiting Children’s Institute (CII), to celebrate her impact on the lives of kids.

As she delivered her acceptance speech, Thomas reflected on what her first commercial hit, That Girl, a TV show from the 1960s about a single woman navigating a career in New York, has meant to a generation of women. In front of the luncheon’s audience of more than 600 guests, Thomas discussed the themes of empowerment and independence.

Anne Johnson & Eliza Reed Bolen

“The work of The Colleagues is a great example of what woman can accomplish together,” she said to an audience who applauded in agreement.

Founded in 1950, The Colleagues is a women’s volunteer nonprofit that supports and raises funds to benefit CII. Embodying what Thomas highlighted during her speech, the group has been a crucial voice in driving a conversation about the importance of giving back.

In their nearly 70 years, The Colleagues have raised more than $25 million for CII programs while leaning on their collective influences among actors, politicians and philanthropists to expand CII’s reach. This year’s luncheon proved to be another example of the group showing their unwavering support.

Sima Abouzari and Daniel Carrilho

Hosted by author and TV host Cristina Ferrare for the second year in a row, the award was presented to Thomas by Hollywood icon and friend Henry Winkler. After the award ceremony, the audience was treated to a private fashion show of Oscar de la Renta’s Fall 2019 line by co-creative directors Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim.

The Colleagues President and CII Trustee Cara Esposito and the other members of the support group made sure the event had substance and focused on children. Multiple times during the afternoon, speeches and videos highlighted the lives of children and families whose trajectories are very different from those living in Beverly Hills, Brentwood or Bel Air. Esposito shared that a child growing up just 20 miles south of these neighborhoods could have a much lower life expectancy, 20 years less than children born in more affluent area of Los Angeles.

Esposito said the luncheon has been an opportunity for The Colleagues to work together on an impressive event that highlights the important work of CII. She said the event’s decades-long run is a testament to the group’s passion for giving back and knowing how to bring together an influential crowd.

This is our signature event and it is where we can generate the most revenue for CII,” Esposito said. “The Colleagues are a group of great women who are doing the most that they can for children.”

In receiving the Champion of Children Award, Thomas joins an impressive list of celebrities and politicians with a history of philanthropy. Previous recipients include actresses Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Carol Burnett along with former First Ladies Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford and Laura Bush.

Anne Johnson, the Executive Chairman of the Spring Luncheon, said her goal each year for the event is to have as large of a turnout as possible since that means greater funds raised for CII. She said a testament to the event’s success is that it has become a tradition of giving for many of the supporters.

“I care deeply about children and any child that is ever abused,” Johnson said. “CII is doing absolutely the most important work.”

Anne Johnson & Mary Milner

In addition to funds raised at the Spring Luncheon, the group is currently working on a separate campaign to raise funds for CII’s new Watts Campus designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry that will be breaking ground next year (2020). The Colleagues also operate a high-end resale clothing boutique, The Room, in Santa Monica where all proceeds benefit CII.

Martine Singer, President & CEO of CII, said support from The Colleagues has been important to the organization, and the group continues to play a key role in fundraising initiatives – especially with funds raised through the Spring Luncheon.

“It’s an extraordinarily generous and wonderful tradition,” she said. “They have been continuous supporters for decades and we’re so grateful and humbled by their continued advocacy and commitment to our mission at Children’s Institute.”