It would typically not be a good sign if Burbank City Manager Justin Hess’ secretary Joyce Thompson interrupted his midday business to say he was immediately needed in front of City Hall. It would cause even further concern if, instead of being led through the most direct path via the front doors, he was taken around the corner to approach the front of the building from the side.
That scenario is exactly what took place this past Monday morning.
If Hess’ anxiety level was a bit high as he turned from Third Street onto Olive Avenue, it dropped precipitously when he saw Congressman Adam Schiff, the full complement of the City Council, members of the city’s executive staff and representatives of the Family Service Agency of Burbank welcoming him with applause.
Looking greatly relieved, Hess, who along with state Sen. Anthony Portantino has been selected to receive the FSA’s 2020 Mary Alice O’Connor Vision Award, thanked the assemblage.
“It’s great to see a group of people outside of City Hall who aren’t protesting something,” he said to a round of laughter.
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. The annual honor is traditionally bestowed during FSA’s Imagine a City gala. This year, when everything is being done differently, Schiff presented the award to Hess during Monday’s surprise event and Portantino will receive his during the organization’s gala, which will take place on the Olive Ball Fields at Izay Park on Saturday, Oct. 24.
Lauding Hess for more than two decades of service to Burbank, Schiff gestured to a large photo of O’Connor behind him.
“Her spirit of giving back to the community and making Burbank a better place lives on through those who receive this award,” said Schiff.
Accepting the award from a safe distance, Hess said it would be put in a special place in his office where he would see it every day and be reminded of O’Connor and the others who have received it. “I’m honored to be recognized in the lineage of the past recipients of this award,” he added.
The backdrop of Monday’s event was the City Hall lawn adorned with cutouts of the honorees, City Council members, and the executive team, just like the ones that are now being used to fill the seats at major sporting events. The cutouts were representative of those that will be made to create a “Field of Hope” for the Oct. 24 fundraiser.
Former City Manager Mary Alvord, who is serving as co-chair of the event along with Terry Stein, said the gala had to be “reimagined to adhere to county safety protocols.”
“We’re out there a little bit in uncharted territory as the first local organization to do an actual gala since the pandemic hit; but the FSA board discussed it, felt we could do it in a safe way, and so we’re running with it,” said Alvord. “We really felt that, as long as we could do it safely, it is something that people really need because they feel so isolated and are hungry to see one another.”
Alvord said that in the same way Laurie Bleick, the agency’s executive director, has had to reinvent the way FSA works during the pandemic, the nonprofit’s board had to reimagine how it was going to do this event, which serves as their major fundraiser.
“We know that many people and businesses are financially strapped due to the pandemic,” said Alvord. “But we really rely on this event for funding and felt we had to step out and do it as a celebration of hope.”
According to Alvord, they have plans to create the Field of Hope from cutouts of every person who purchases a ticket to the event.
“Exactly how we will handle it will be dependent on what the county COVID numbers are at that time,” she said. “We are working with the city and doing our due diligence to be in compliance with all the public health protocols. The fields are so big that we feel this can be done safely. When people arrive they will be given a band to get their baseball park box dinner, there will be live music, and then they will have the opportunity to have their photo taken by their cutout.”
A special part of the event will be that every person who attends will have the chance to interact with the two honorees who will walk through the crowd dispensing bags of peanuts just as if they were vendors at a ballgame.
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 grip of mental illness and substance addiction.
To get tickets for this event, receive further information on FSA’s services, volunteer or make a financial donation, call (818) 845-7671 or visit familyserviceagencyofburbank.org.
David Laurell may be reached at email@example.com or (818) 563-1007.