Las Madrinas turns 90 with another ($5M!) endowment pledge

| October 26, 2023 | 0 Comments

HANCOCK PARK / LARCHMONT area members are (top row, left to right) Miranda Payne, Cindy MacPherson and Anne Bessant, and (bottom row, left to right) Edith Frère, Sally Keller and Diane Hawley. Photos by Nick Boswell Photography

Las Madrinas, the oldest philanthropic auxiliary of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), celebrated its 90th birthday last month.

Don’t let its age fool you. The group continues to fund innovative programs, including its most recent: a $5 million pledge to support the Las Madrinas Chair and Endowment in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics headed by Dr. Douglas Vanderbilt. The funds will support the medical and psychosocial aspects of children’s and adolescents’ developmental and behavioral problems, including autism, ADHD and learning disorders.

The gift was announced at the group’s annual fall meeting and luncheon, Oct. 4 at the Saban Research Institute at CHLA.

More than 70 members dined on chicken and an arugula and cranberry salad. Pink and orange flower arrangements decorated the tables in the courtyard where members heard about how their support has led to new discoveries that are often not possible with traditional government funding.

While the National Institutes of Health provide sustaining support, Las Madrinas’ philanthropy lays the foundation that has led to grants in the multi-millions and developments in pediatric imaging, genetic testing and new cancer drugs, said Saban Chief Scientific Officer, Vice President and Director Dr. Pat Levitt.

He told of discovery models incorporating zebrafish that led to gene mutations in treating a child with a rare cancer.

“That was funded by philanthropy. It was not funded by a grant or an insurance company,” Dr. Levitt said. “Much of your philanthropy goes to supporting new faculty who are working to take risks.”

He introduced Dr. Jessica Schwartzman and Dr. Sahana Nagabhushan Kalburgi, who spoke of groundbreaking work in autism and thanked the members for their support.

“EEG – electrical signals in the brain — allows us to detect depression and autism in kids who can’t tell us what they’re feeling,” said Dr. Schwartzman.

She added that young women working in science are rare, “but we are able to do so because of people like you.”

Through EEG and an “eye tracking” device, “we can detect [autism] much earlier than 2 years old,” Dr. Kalburgi said.

“It’s amazing to see what has happened from so long ago when we started our autism endowment,” Las Madrinas President Kathryne Halverson Garland told the group.

A look back

Las Madrinas was founded during the Great Depression when the Convalescent Home of Childrens Hospital, now known as Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, had been left bankrupt when a local bank failed.

PAST PRESIDENTS: (Top row, left to right) Katherine Thompson (Los Angeles), Kathryne Garland (Pacific Palisades), Katherine Hult (San Marino), Diane Hawley (Los Angeles), Marcie Newby (Los Angeles), Sarah Cox (Los Angeles), Kristin Harrison (Pasadena), Kelly Rouse (Oceanside, formerly of Pasadena) and Elizabeth Shoemaker (Los Angeles). (Bottom row, left to right) Ann Barrett (Pasadena), Margaret Galbraith (San Marino), Katherine Darnell (Pasadena), Sally Keller (Los Angeles), Elayne Techentin (Pasadena) and Catherine Pherson (Los Angeles).

A group of 65 women formed Las Madrinas, Spanish for “The Godmothers,” to raise funds for the hospital.

They held an inaugural charity ball in December 1933. It was hailed as a success, with more than 1,000 guests in attendance.

The charity ball became an annual event, and six years later the members of Las Madrinas agreed the dance should raise money to support the hospital while honoring the daughters of families who had made significant contributions to the community.

Since then, the Las Madrinas Ball, held each year in December, has honored more than 2,500 families and their daughters and raised $60 million in contributions. Since 1980, Las Madrinas has endowed nine research programs.

“Godmothers play a really important role in the development of children… [laying] a strong foundation for that child to flourish,” Dr. Levitt said at the luncheon. While a godmother may help one child, Las Madrinas has helped untold numbers of children and their families and continues to do by supporting discoveries in medicine and science.

CHLA has been named the best children’s hospital in the state and among the best in the nation by the U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll.

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