May 14, 2015// News
May 14, 2015// News
By Tess Cutler
Local philanthropist Jeanne Pritzker was swept up in a whirlwind of chaos on Mother’s Day, conducting interviews with major news outlets, answering questions from volunteers and waiting for the arrival of buses that, over the course of the day, would drop off more than 2,500 foster families to The Willows community school in Culver City.
Unfazed by the mayhem at the seventh annual Foster Mother’s Day celebration, which Pritzker first hosted in 2008 at her Topanga Canyon home, she reveled in what it takes to be a certain kind of parent.
“What we’re celebrating today is foster parents, because a lot of times they don’t get publicly thanked,” said Pritzker, a mother of seven — including one foster child — and the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Foster Care Counts, which sponsored the event.
The May 10 celebration itself included catered lunch, live music, spa treatments, boutique shopping, carnival games and family portraits, not to mention partnerships with heavy hitters Disney, Wolfgang Puck and Nestle.
At the boutique, by far the most popular spot, foster families were able to shop racks of clothing, shoes and accessories and take home a bag’s worth of items. A sign that read “Boutique full: please come back in 15 minutes” was permanently posted outside as a line of foster mothers, and some fathers, stood waiting to get inside, giving it the appearance of a trendy nightclub.
“I wish I was skinny; I would get up all in this,” mused Helen Langley, a foster mother from South Los Angeles, while admiring a short leather skirt.
Her arms were full of clothes, while one foot was clad in a sandal, the other in a gladiator stiletto. Hobbling to the next rack of clothes with the newly acquired skirt in hand, she said she fostered and eventually adopted six children, ages 7 to 18. On this Mother’s Day, a wardrobe’s worth of new clothes was the perfect way to celebrate.
Karen Weimer, a foster mother who adopted two kids, ages 6 and 9, one of them with special needs, made her way to the boutique after a visit to the spa, where she received some special pampering. She flashed her newly manicured nails.
“My daughter picked out the color,” Weimer said proudly. “Chartreuse.”
The boutique and spa shared space in the school’s auditorium, making it an easy transition for mothers to jump between shopping and pampering, with Latin jazz serenading in the background.
Indicating that many foster mothers are single — like herself — Weimer said, “It’s really nice to get out.”
A foster mother with stick-straight hair was sitting in a barber chair nearby, getting her hair done by Tomas Zamudio, a student at Paul Mitchell The School in Sherman Oaks. Working for just an hour and already on his fourth mom, Zamudio was ecstatic to be a part of this event, especially because his own mother died two years ago.
“What they do is amazing,” he said as he used a flat iron to add waves to the mother’s hair. “This is our pleasure.”
One building down, in the reading room, an 11-year-old volunteer named India Spencer was emphatically reading “Honk!: The Story of a Prima Swanerina” to two mesmerized younger girls.
“I love reading, and I love kids,” she said. “That’s why I do this — because it’s important to me.”
In the next room, Adam Beechen was signing copies of his graphic novel “Hench,” accompanied by his mother, Judy, who came from Arizona just for the occasion. (Literacy nonprofit The Book Foundation gave away more than 2,000 backpacks filled with books during the event.)
“Comic books taught me how to read, so anything that encourages reading, I’m all about,” the author said as he signed a copy of his book for a young boy with big brown eyes.
A family photo booth at the event was a big hit, too.
“A lot of foster families don’t have the opportunity to take a photo together,” said Courtney Paulson, a volunteer who was working the booth.
Families were able to select costumes from racks full of fun possibilities and even coordinate according to a theme. Many were opting for royal get-ups, selecting Renaissance-style dresses and fur-lined robes.
At one point, a family of three generations — grandmother, parents and a 6-year-old granddaughter — came out camera-ready, adorned in royal duds and masquerade masks. The grandmother, Madeline Roachell, assistant deputy director at the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, donned a sparkly gown and said, “Usually, I’m not a big fan of attending events, but this one is really special.” Although not a foster mother herself, she did raise a relative’s children, so the event resonated.
Just around the corner at the face-painting station, one young boy was getting his face painted red and white. “You’re getting Spider-Man!” guessed a 7-year-old boy who was next in line and swung his balloon sword in the air as he announced he would be getting made up as Batman. Later, the two superheroes were seen on the playground, balloon-sword fighting together.
Amid these scenes, Pritzker, who attended with her husband, Tony, was busy multi-tasking, splitting her time between speaking to media and working the event — which drew more than 300 volunteers and the likes of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass — diverted yet composed, in a way only a mother can be.
“Motherhood means taking whatever knowledge you have to teach, embracing as many kids as you’re capable of, and helping them to transition to adulthood as successfully as possible,” she said.
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