Even in Celebrating Honorees, FSA Displays Its Vision

Photo by David Laurell / Burbank Leader
Michael Albanese, Anthony Portantino, Justin Hess and Laurie Bleick gather during the recent presentations of the Mary Alice O’Connor Vision Award.

For the past 67 years, Family Service Agency of Burbank has cultivated and celebrated relationships with officials in the city and the surrounding area, just as it has with those who have been in need of its counseling and mental health services.
Those relationships were honored as the agency presented the Mary Alice O’Connor Vision Award to state Sen. Anthony Portantino and City Manager Justin Hess at the recent 2020 “Imagine a City” fundraiser.
This annual event usually lures more than 300 supporters to gather for a gala evening of silent auction bidding, a sunset cocktail reception, dinner and live music. Though that wasn’t an option this year, the organization did break ground in staging Burbank’s first socially distanced fundraiser since the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown began.
Former City Manager Mary Alvord, who served as the co-chair of the event along with Terry Stein, said the FSA Board of Directors gave a lot of thought to figuring out a way to make the evening possible.
“We did the same thing the agency has been doing to serve their clients since the pandemic began,” said Alvord. “We put our heads together and came up with a way to reinvent this event, which serves as our major fundraiser, and still abide by all health and safety protocols.”
This year’s awards ceremony was staged against a backdrop known as the “Field of Hope,” which included hundreds of cutouts representing everyone who purchased a ticket. The event was held at the Olive Ball Fields, where attendees parked in the field’s parking lot and remained in their cars for the presentation of awards while eating a ballpark-inspired box dinner.
Guests were welcomed by Laurie Bleick, the agency’s executive director, and board Chairman Michael Albanese, and the highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Vision Award to Hess and Portantino.
“These two men mean a lot to us at FSA,” Bleick told the drive-up assemblage. “They have inspired me with hope, taken the time to learn what we do, and embody the vision and spirit of Mary Alice O’Connor.”
The Vision Award is given annually to honor the memory, work and spirit of O’Connor, a longtime dedicated community volunteer and founding board member of the agency, who died in 2010.
Serving as the evening’s master of ceremonies, Albanese praised the two honorees for doing “hard work and heavy lifting” in making Burbank a better place.
“They both have a heart to serve, a passion for the work that FSA does, and for people of this community who find themselves in crisis,” said Albanese.
While presenting Portantino with the award, Bleick lauded him for the bravery he has shown in candidly sharing the issues of mental health that have touched his own family by the death of his brother Michael, who took his own life in 2010.
Accepting the award, Portantino in turn praised Bleick and FSA.
“I fell in love with Laurie the first time I met her,” said Portantino. “Along with the dedicated work of her staff, she does so much to help individuals and families and to bring the stigma of mental illness out of the shadows through open and honest conversation.”
Emotionally referencing his late brother, Portantino said that since his death many people have shared similar stories with him of mental illness and suicide within their families.
“When people share their stories with me, we immediately become like members of a family that no one ever wants to be a part of,” said Portantino. “But it is by sharing our personal grief and stories and hope that we can be of invaluable help to one another, just like FSA is to the community at large.”
Hess, who was presented with his award by U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff during a pre-event ceremony two weeks ago at City Hall, said he was honored to receive an award that over the years has been given to so many men and women who have played an instrumental role in providing vital care, assistance and help to so many Burbankers.
“While I’m honored to accept this award, I feel it is really FSA that is to be honored,” said Hess. “They have a spirit and soul that is outstanding. They are the ones that carry out their mission and help everyone — rich, poor, you name it. Mental health issues are so much more prevalent than people realize, and I greatly appreciate what FSA does on a daily basis for those in our community who need their help.”
Among the dignitaries and special guests who came out to honor Portantino and Hess were Burbank Mayor Sharon Springer, Vice Mayor Bob Frutos, City Council members Jess Talamantes and Tim Murphy, and former Mayor Marsha Ramos.
The mission of FSA is to offer quality mental health counseling, care, education and advocacy at low or no cost. The agency has dramatically changed and saved the lives of local individuals, couples and families as well as active and veteran members of the armed forces by providing housing, crisis intervention, legal guidance, safety in the face of domestic violence and hope for those in the grips of mental illness and substance addiction.
For more information about Family Service Agency of Burbank or to make a financial donation, call (818) 845-7671 or visit familyserviceagencyofburbank.org.

David Laurell may be reached at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

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