By Clara Helm
A night of festivities was hosted by the J. F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center in honor of Bonnie and David Eastman, recipients of the Michael Lewis Friends of the Disabled Award. The gala was held June 17 at Montage Laguna Beach, where guests enjoyed views of the ocean below.
The gala was not only held to honor recipients of the Michael Lewis Award but also to celebrate their larger work as an organization, the Shea Center noted.
“It was an evening of gratitude from The Shea Center for its friends and sponsors who graciously donate time, talent, and treasure to support its mission to improve the lives of people with disabilities through equestrian-assisted services,” Communications Director Sarah Booth said in a media release.
Established in 1978, the Shea Center is one of the largest therapeutic equestrian centers worldwide and utilizes 28 horses for its therapies, according to the center. The center has more than 700 community volunteers, and its operation is mostly funded by grants, donations, and fundraising events.
The center’s services include a broad spectrum of equine-assisted therapy and activities, providing help to the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive challenges of people with disabilities.
With 340 guests in attendance, the Montage’s Pacific lawn and grand ballroom were filled with Shea Center supporters. Notable guests were in attendance, including Orange County Fifth District Board Supervisor Katrina Foley and equestrian Robert Ridland, who helped coach the U.S. jumping team in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.
At the beginning of the evening, guests mingled in the lawn area enjoying drinks and hors d’oeuvres and were then ushered into the ballroom at 7 p.m. for awards, dinner, a silent auction and live music and entertainment.
The Michael Lewis Award, named after the center’s first client, presented to Bonnie and David Eastman, was the first event of the night.
“This honor is given to individuals, organizations, families, and companies that significantly impact the lives of people with disabilities at The Shea Center and in the greater community,” Booth said in the statement.
The couple encompasses these values, as they have both volunteered continuously at the center and performed different roles to aid clients. Holding the position of BBQ chair for 10 years and member of the board of directors for nine years, Bonnie has served a total of 20 years at the center. As a longtime volunteer, David has supported the needs of the center and its clients.
The evening also included a live auction, allowing guests to bid on hundreds of items. The items included lavish trips, giving bidders the chance to jet off on a six-day vacation in Paris or a five-night getaway to Moorea, Tahiti.
To support its present and future clients, the Shea Center’s gala programming concluded with donations to the Fosheim Rider Support fund. The donations are given to clients to assist them in financing Shea Center therapies.
The call for donations moved through levels of gifts, with the highest gift at the $50,000 level from Jenny and Bill Klein.
The night ended with music and dancing as the Shea Center gala attendees celebrated their successful night of charity and community.