Extraordinary Families’ extraordinary family

Jason Peers, Eric Pelovello with sons Justin & Kamil
Jason Peers, Eric Pelovello with sons Justin & Kamil

Extraordinary Families hosted it’s inaugural awards gala at the Beverly Hilton on April 20, 2016.

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The agency helps match adolescent youth (age 14 years +), including youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) with a stable family. Children who remain in Los Angeles’ foster care system and reach adolescence are unlikely to return to their birth family or to find an adoptive family. Youth who “age out” of foster care are more likely to become homeless, pregnant, incarcerated and/or unemployed. LGBTQ youth are highly vulnerable to being bullied, assaulted and targets of hate crimes. Accepting family and can make the difference for a successful transition to adulthood.

The evening honored Shane Brennan, creator and executive producer, NCIS:  Los Angeles, with the 2016 Visionary Award.  Stacie & Philip D’Amour and Jason Peers & Eric Pelovello were presented with the 2016 Sylvia Fogelman Founder’s Award.  

Hosts Renee Ridgeley and Sheila Chalakee welcomed the 500 guests and introduced Sarah Boone, EF Chief Executive Officer.  Boone provided a brief history of the organization and acknowledged foster parents, staff and co-mentors in attendance.  “Commitment.  Integrity.  Compassion.  Unconditional love.  Those are the qualities embodied at ExtraordinaryFamilies and in our supporters and staff,” said Boone who introduced board member and gala event chair, Brooke Kaufman Halsband.  Kaufman Halsband thanked the Gala Committee: Rosanne Ziering, Sean Reese and Arsine Gaboyan and the Honorary Gala Committee:  Mayor Eric Garcetti, First Lady of Los Angeles Amy Elaine Wakeland, Supervisor Hilda Solis, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Darla Kim and Julia Kim.

A highlight of the evening was a segment entitled “unique voices” featuring young adults and former foster youth Margarita Vargas, Shari Walker and Demontray Thompson.  The trio each spoke poignantly about their journey through the foster care system.  Demontray’s twin brother, Demontae, performed an impactful spoken word piece he wrote entitled, “Mother Where Were You.”

EF Chief Policy Officer Andrew Bridge, who grew up in the foster care system in Los Angeles, introduced presenter Chris O’Donnell, “who portrays a former foster child with sensitivity, grace, talent and kindness on the hit CBS series, NCIS: Los Angeles.”  O’Donnell’s character, Callen, grew up in 37 foster families. Said O’Donnell, “Sadly, 37 families is not an outrageous number for foster children.  I hope we’ve shed some light on the unusual path that so many foster children are forced to walk.”  O’Donnell presented the 2016 Visionary Award to “my friend, my boss, the head of the NCIS: LA surrogate family – Shane Brennan.”

Shane Brennan, creator and executive producer of the hit CBS series, NCIS: Los Angeles, explained why he chose to spotlight a foster child on the show, how he developed the character and the important work being done by everyone at EF.  

Board member Sean Reese presented the first of two 2016 Sylvia Fogelman Founders Awards, (named for the woman that created the legacy that continues today at EF), to Jason Peers and Eric Pelovello.  Peers and Pelovello became an ‘Extraordinary Family’ in 2013.  They live in Los Angeles with their two sons, Justin and Kamil who were on hand to accept the award with their parents.  Because of the loving care provided by their fathers, the boys are thriving.  Justin now performs opera and appears in commercials and Kamil is a budding athlete.

Foster parent, EF Trustee and First Lady of Los Angeles, Amy Elaine Wakeland, presented the second of the 2016 Sylvia Fogelman Founders Awards to Stacie and Philip D’Amour.  The D’Amours have fostered children who needed a family in Los Angeles and recently adopted a baby girl through the organization.  “Their approach to parenthood, their loving care and devotion embody the EF mission,” said Wakeland.  Stacie and Philip provide support to families just getting started on their foster care and adoption journeys by supporting the development of resources for current and prospective families, and sharing their own story to prospective families during the new family orientation meetings and training.

The evening ended on a high note with an uplifting and inspiring performance by NPG Records recording artist and star of The Voice, Judith Hill.

ExtraordinaryFamilies was formed in 2015 with the merger of two robust nonprofits:  Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency (SCFFAA) and Child Welfare Initiative (CWI).  Both organizations were well-established, innovative nonprofits in Southern California that shared the vision of improving the daily lives and long-term outcomes of children impacted by the child welfare system.  The merger of the two organizations resulted in gained synergies, improved efficiencies, reduced costs, complementary services and in-field learning that significantly leveraged resources and greatly increased the organization’s impact on the community.  For more information, please visit www.ExtraordinaryFamilies.org.

 (l-r) presenter EF board member Sean Reese, honorees Jason Peers & Eric Pelovello
(l-r) presenter EF board member Sean Reese, honorees Jason Peers & Eric Pelovello
(l-r) honorees Jason Peers, Eric Pelovello, CEO Sarah Boone, honorees Shane Brennan, Stacie & Philip D'Amour
(l-r) honorees Jason Peers, Eric Pelovello, CEO Sarah Boone, honorees Shane Brennan, Stacie & Philip D’Amour