Local nonprofit raises more than $400K for Laguna Beach Schools


SchoolPower, Laguna Beach’s Education Foundation, hosted its 38th Annual Gala Above & Beyond on March 23 at Montage Laguna Beach. Chaired by SchoolPower trustees Ashley Brown and Liz Black, the event grossed more than $400,000 for Laguna Beach Unified School District’s four schools.  

SchoolPower Executive Director Sarah Durand addresses guests at SchoolPower’s 38th Annual Gala. Photo/Candice Dartez Photography

“When a community works together to realize a mutual goal, magic is created. And magic is what SchoolPower has created with its commitment to improving both the education and well-being of Laguna Beach students,” said Liz Black, a Thurston Middle School parent and event co-chair.

SchoolPower is a parent volunteer-based, nonprofit that has raised money for Laguna Beach public schools since 1981. Through SchoolPower grants, the Family Resource Center, and the After School Program, SchoolPower supports academics, athletics, visual and performing arts, music, student experiences, social and emotional wellness and community connections. 

Katie MacGillivray, Greg MacGillivray, Dennis Berryman, Barbara MacGillivray, Carol Berryman, and Erin Berryman show multiple generations of family support for SchoolPower at SchoolPower’s 38th Annual Gala. Photo/Candice Dartez Photography

Over 320 attendees, decked out in “gilded glamour” attire, enjoyed champagne and cocktails in a courtyard glowing with early evening light. Guests perused a wide selection of silent auction items, including restaurant gift certificates, local fitness and boutique items, jewelry from Fredric H. Rubel, sports tickets, weekends away, and much more. Event attendees, joined by SchoolPower supporters outside the room, furiously “bid for the kids” on their phones. Guests with raffle tickets whirled a colorful spin wheel, shouting with surprise when they scored prizes, including gorjana treasures and premium tequila. 

LBHS sophomore Zealan Munsey tells the audience about his journey through the Laguna Unified School District at SchoolPower’s 38th Annual Gala. Photo/Candice Dartez Photography

After guests were seated for dinner, SchoolPower Executive Director Sarah Durand spoke on a podium beneath an illuminated hot air balloon. Durand recognized the elementary, middle, and high school educator recipients of three exemplary SchoolPower Grants. Her presentation was followed by LBUSD Superintendent Jason Viloria, who toasted the exceptional opportunities and innovative programs that go “above and beyond” for Laguna Beach students.

During the live auction portion of the event, guests bid on compelling packages, including stays at Montage Big Sky, Aspen, Napa, and Ireland, as well as a diamond tennis necklace from gorjana, a suite for Monster Jam at Angel Stadium, the sought-after In-N-Out truck, a harbor cruise and Mastro’s dinner, and a dinner party at The Loft at Montage Laguna Beach. 

Student speaker Zealan Munsey, a LBHS sophomore, captivated the audience with his articulate gratitude for Laguna Beach schools. SchoolPower President Iva Pawling spoke of the importance of SchoolPower’s core programs–SchoolPower Grants, the After School Program, and services at the Family Resource Center–and their impact on students. Brent Martini pledged $10,000 to support the journalistic passions of students like Munsey, then emphasized the importance of open discourse in today’s world with an additional $25,000 donation. Jason Riedel, co-founder of gorjana, generously offered to match bids of $1,000. In response to Riedel, the ballroom buzzed with laughter and zealously raised paddles.

“We’re so grateful to have the community’s support in carrying our vision forward,” SchoolPower President Iva Pawling said. “What a huge and humbling success when we all work together.” 

Steve and Kristin Samuelian, Carol and Dennis Berryman, and Joe and Jane Hanauer at SchoolPower’s 38th Annual Gala. Photo/Candice Dartez Photography

By the night’s end, guests and organizers had achieved above and beyond SchoolPower’s fundraising goal. 

“We are thrilled with the success of this year’s event,” Durand said. “From our supporters’ incredible energy and generosity to Montage’s excellent service and cuisine, it was a spectacular evening to benefit Laguna Beach students.”

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