Outstanding Youth Honoree Natalie Cernius, 17, of Newport Beach, and Outstanding Philanthropist Victoria Collins were highlighted alongside Orange County's top philanthropists, business leaders and individuals honored by 900 people at the 28th annual National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon. The event raised $35,000 for the ethical advancement of philanthropy in the community.
Cernius, who has an autistic brother, was nominated and honored for her dedication to providing those with special needs the chance to have social and recreation time in a safe, accepting environment. Fearing her brother Andrew, 19, would be lonely when she and her siblings would go away to college, Cernius founded the Friday Night Club in 2011. The social club gives high school students the opportunity to earn community service hours for spending quality, social time with teens who have autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other special needs.
The Friday Night Club is held twice a month either at Cernius's home, a church gym or at the United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County offices, and sees about 80 participants at each meeting. Mona Ghotb, who has a daughter with special needs, said the Friday Night Club gives family members much-needed free time.
“My husband and I use this time to have some alone time with a free mind, because we are sure our daughter will be safe and well supervised while at the Club,” Ghotb said about the Friday Night Club.
Cernius has a plan to make the Friday Night Club a national non-profit with the goal of establishing similar groups nationwide.
Cernius designated an award of $2,500 from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Orange County Chapter to the United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County during last month's awards luncheon.Collins, of Corona del Mar, was recognized for her leadership in empowering women and girls to be financially confident and competent. Collins founded the non-profit, Invest in Yourself, more than 15 years ago, which later became WISE (Women Investing in Security and Education), an organization dedicated to the education of girls about financial literacy.
WISE collaborates with many other community organizations to reach their goals of financial education, including the Girl Scouts’ Cookie Rally, which kicks off the Girl Scout Cookie Program for 16,000 girls. At the event, volunteers from WISE lead a financial planning workshop that teaches girls how to set a budget with goals for their cookie program proceeds. WISE volunteers also lead a workshop for younger girls that teaches them how to count money and make change, so they can be prepared to confidently conduct business with customers.
Collins, a Girl Scout alumna, was also an original founder of United Way’s Women’s Philanthropy Fund in 2002 and was among the five founders of the Women’s International Load Fund, to support mirco-enterprise for women in developing countries
Chosen from more than 150 nominations, Cernius, Collins and each honoree were awarded with a video tribute and a custom piece of art glass in the shape
of a heart created
by local Laguna Beach artist John Barber.