Just how distinctive were the Citizens of Distinction honored by COD last week? Well, any five-some that can lure 360 busy socialites to a midweek luncheon during high season has got to be pretty darn distinctive! And so they were:
Donna Jean Darby, who received the Community Citizen award was honored for a lifetime of passionate teaching, as well as being a past president of both the COD Foundation and the Academic Angels.
Diane and Hal Gershowitz, who received the Inspirational Citizens award, were honored for their separate and joint achievements. Diane was a director of NYSE Marcus Corp for 25 years and serves on both the Annenberg Theater Council and COD Foundation. She has chaired COD’s “Stepping Out” event since 2011.
Hal holds double degrees and served years as senior V.P. of Waste Management. Presidents Bush and Clinton both appointed him to the governing council of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is also a published historical novelist and Vice Chair of the McCallum Theatre.
Paulina Larson, who received the Rising Star award, is currently the Director of Integrated Marketing of Desert Publications (Palm Springs Life). As an immigrant, Paulina’s struggles and sacrifices for her education and success are inspirational. She is active in COD’s Step Up campaign and sits on the board of the Girlfriend Factor and the Ophelia Projects, both of which support women’s education.
Harold Matzner, who received the COD Patron Citizen award, is the owner of Spencer’s and CEO of a national Branding/Advertising/Marketing Company. A desert resident for over 30 years, he is acknowledged as the driving force behind the success of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the McCallum Theatre, the Palm Springs Art Museum and countless other community institutions.
And then to take their distinction up yet another notch – these honorees were chosen by angels. This was the 3rd annual Citizens of Distinction event created by the COD Foundation’s Academic Angels, under the leadership of president and head angel, Jan Harnik, Committee Chair Mary E. Latta and a host of hard working angels. This year’s attendance set a new record, as did their balance sheet and expanded programs for students. Over $320,000 was raised for three major initiatives that are part of the Foundation’s You Can campaign for student success at COD:
1. Financial help: 90% of the students applying to COD qualify for financial assistance and need help with tuition, books, child care and daily existence. The Academic Angels help raise funding to support the more than $700,000 in scholarships awarded annually through the Foundation.
2. Academic help:An astonishing 95% of first-time applicants need some form of remediation in math, English and/or writing.
3. Career help:COD’s third major student support initiative is to help students prepare for jobs and careers. In the present economy even the hardest working degree holders may need help through the Career Center with resume writing, interview techniques, and references.
Honoree Matzner was the presenting sponsor, joined by platinum sponsors Diane & Hal Gershowitz, Louise Kermode, Donna MacMillan and Sally Simonds. The gold sponsors were Rondi Edwards/Merrill Lynch, Helene Galen and Arlene Schnitzer. The distinguished funding was rounded out by dozens of silver sponsors and two media sponsors, The Desert Sun and Palm Springs Life.
The fast-paced program was opened by emcee Ginger Jeffries, KMIR News Chief Meteorologist, followed by participants COD Superintendent/President Joel L. Kinnamon, COD Foundation Board President Mark Nickerson, Academic Angels Board President Jan Harnik, Foundation Executive Director Jim Hummer, and Foundation Development Director Peter Sturgeon.
Former Citizens of Distinction who were present included Peggy Cravens, Jeanne Hilb, Penny Mason, Joan Busick, Birgit Moller, Dan Martinez and this reporter.
Many of the speakers made reference to COD’s vital role in training every level of our desert’s workforce. Honoree Hal Gershowitz recounted how surprised he was to discover that virtually every efficient worker he encountered in the valley had been educated at COD — from chefs, to mechanics, to nurses, paramedics, police, firemen, managers and entrepreneurs.
Honoree Matzner reemphasized this point, saying, “There is no question that an educated workforce is a critical engine to the region’s economic growth,” then he quoted Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
This event was held from wall-to-wall in the large Emerald Ballroom of the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort where a sumptuous luncheon was served with great precision by a friendly staff — probably trained at COD.
The next College of the Desert fund raiser will be Stepping Out for COD to be held Wednesday, March 23, 2016 at 8 pm at the McCallum Theatre featuring Smokey Robinson presents Human Nature, The Motown Show.
Information at COD Foundation 760-773-2561 or www.codfoundation.org