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Circle of Hope sails the high seas

Breast cancer support group enjoys annual theatrical tea

Posted: October 20, 2010 9:08 p.m.
Updated: October 21, 2010 4:30 a.m.

From left, Colleen Shaffer, Jordana Capra and Laird Stuart are dressed for the event. The event theme was Set Sail to Exotic Ports of Call. The fundraiser for the breast cancer support group was held at the home of Colleen and Clyde Shaffer in Newhall. Colleen Shaffer is the founder of the nonprofit.

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It was “all aboard” for exotic ports of call as more than 100 guests embarked on a lovely Sunday afternoon cruise to enjoy high tea on the high seas during the seventh annual Circle of Hope Theatrical Tea.

This year’s theme was “Set Sail to Exotic Ports of Call” to pay homage to locations around the world. Patterson Dental Valencia was the event sponsor and enjoyed a real fiesta at their table at the “port” of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Dress was casual, favoring Panama hats, berets, boater hats, sparkly sandals and festive resort wear.

For guests not sitting at tables representing Mexico or Hawaii, the attire was slightly more formal. 

Annual fundraiser
The annual fundraiser for the breast cancer support group founded by breast cancer survivor Colleen Shaffer was sold out, and 200 guests enjoyed high tea and savory treats in the in the lush garden of Shaffer’s Newhall home on the weekend of Oct. 9-10.

Guests enjoyed music played by professional violinist Dave Ewart during the warm afternoon as they bid on elegant gift baskets and raffle prizes. The proceeds will benefit uninsured and underinsured breast cancer patients undergoing treatment.

To add to the relaxing ambience, Flo Shephard, Vince Allen and Charlene Timms offered soothing hand and foot massages, and Joan Darlene was on hand to perform Angel Card readings. 

Chuck Sloan Photography provided guest photos, and the Circle of Hope table featured jewelry by Carol Rock Ring and Virginia Fogelman of Gin’s Gems.

The afternoon’s entertainment included the inimitable David Neubauer of the Magic Castle, who performed astonishing tableside feats of magic.

During the luncheon, cancer survivor and Circle of Hope client Dina Bennett sang a set of travel-themed tunes including “Slow Boat to China,” “Midnight at the Oasis” and of course, “Mambo Italiano!”

Members of the “Angels of Hope” fundraising arm of Circle of Hope each adopted a table and were responsible for its decoration. Each of the 10 tables, set up under tents in individual tea rooms, was intricately decorated with thematic elements related to each table’s port of call.

Table themes and sponsors were: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Colleen Shaffer; Tokyo, Japan, Sandra and Colleen Knopf and Sylvia Giammarco; Hong Kong, China, Louise Schultz; Venice, Italy, Mary Petersen; Casablanca, Morocco, Mayte Castaneda; New Orleans, Louisiana, The Ya Yas; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Sue Doran, KC Jonientz and Patterson Dental Valencia; Barcelona, Spain, Marlene Via; Honolulu, Hawaii, Pam Koch; South Hampton, England, Kathy Rutherford; Sydney, Australia, Pam Koch and Galway, Ireland was sponsored by JoAnne Jones.

Tasty event
Apropos to the nautical theme, the cheerful and helpful servers were dressed according to each port and treated each guest as a VIP. The ladies and gentlemen who served tea and savories were Cleavon Barlow, Reyna Cavazos, Eileen Craft, Chris Gilbert, Joyce Greenleaf, Ashlyn Kudransky, Chapman Locke, Darrell Phillip, Jan Seedman, Jeff Shaffer, Paul Sullivan, Erin Taylor, Traci Katherine, Matthew Zuk, Zena Leigh Logan, Joshua Kingdon, Pat Destro, Tim Harris, Sarah Lewis, Anastasia Barnes, Jonathon Marsh and Jonathan Woodward.

The menu included mini scones with lemon curd and clotted cream, orange-cranberry muffins, zucchini blueberry bread. Scrumptious savories included open-faced sandwiches of chopped ham, cucumber and cream cheese, chicken curry and vegetable rolls. As if the first two courses weren’t enough, the luncheon was topped off with chocolate champagne truffles, baklava, lemon tarts and chocolate bliss fudge cookies.

The food and community sponsors included Man’oushée Mediterranean Bakery and Café, The Cupcake Tree, Whole Foods of Glendale, Nana’s Banana Bread, The Tea Gardens and Gail McCroskey of An Affaire Extraordinaire.

New executive director
At the tea, Shaffer formally introduced its new executive director, Ray J. Tippet, who is planning to expand the Circle of Hope brand and extend the program to communities beyond the Santa Clarita Valley.

“I have been around the world so many times my feet are getting sore,” Tippet quipped, as he walked around the gardens introducing himself to the guests.

With more than 24 years of professional experience managing nonprofit organizations at a regional and national level, Tippet was hired after a nationwide search. Annually, Circle of Hope cares for about 30 women undergoing breast cancer treatment with emotional support and financial assistance of up to $10,000.

“We want to redesign our website, increase the Circle of Hope brand, increase volunteer programs and bring in more corporate sponsors,” Tippet said. “This is a grassroots organization, it is my goal to get the word out about its services; Circle of Hope is the best kept secret in the Santa Clarita Valley.”

Tippet has been a resident of the SCV for 17 years and said his wife, Jane, a second-grade teacher at Stevenson Ranch Elementary and a breast cancer survivor, is his main source of inspiration and one of the main reasons he heeded the call to help move Circle of Hope to another level.

High jinx
In keeping with the “fair sailing on the open seas” theme, what is a cruise without some friendly pirates? Certainly there were plenty of high jinx on the high seas as several “pirates” took over the ships for the afternoon.

With plenty of hearty “aaarrgs” among the pirate “crew,” master of ceremonies, Laird Stuart often ran afoul of his scalawags as “Jolly Mac Roger” in his alluring kilt ensemble.

Also circulating among the crowd was the gorgeous and outrageous Jordana Capra, aka Booty MacBoots, who entertained everyone with plenty of salty talk and bawdy pirate jokes.

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of sitting next to the elegant Janice Murray of KHTS AM 1220 at the “New Orleans” table. Joining us was Sharon Gorman, Ellen Fox, Janet Hinde and Jennifer Bench of Circle of Hope and tea first-timers, Allie Augusta and Maria Higgins.

“This is such a fun event for a good cause,” Augusta said. She and Higgins said they told their 7-year-old daughters they were attending a fundraiser for breast cancer.

“They understand what cancer is, they ‘get’ it,” Higgins said. “When they are older, maybe we can bring them to the tea, where they can learn empathy.”

As it grows bigger and more popular, each year the Theatrical Teas attracts loyal supporters and attracts many newcomers, who often attend with friends.

“We have a 75-percent return rate at the Tea,” said Linda Cormack, a founding board member of Circle of Hope who helped put the gift baskets and bid sheets together. “We were completely sold out for both days,” she said.

Among those loyal supporters was Rebecca Kurek, who has attended all seven Theatrical Teas.

“It is always such a very nice time, elegant,” Kurek said, who brought along two guests, Jiwon Innes, of Van Nuys, and Bernice Martinez, of Northridge.

Theatrical Tea guest Elizabeth Vonk of Desert Hot Springs had breast cancer seven years ago, but said she would have loved a group like Circle of Hope when she was going through her chemo treatments.

“They didn’t have this kind of support when I was going through chemo,” Vonk said. “That would have been wonderful.”

Circle of Hope
Shaffer, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, founded Circle of Hope in 2004.

“I founded Circle of Hope because I found so many people having trouble focusing on getting well because of the bills associated with their illness,” she said. “Costs can run up to $200,000 per year for breast cancer treatment. Insurance rates and medicines are going up. Survivorship is expensive. We provide hope so patients can focus on recovery, not debt.”

After undergoing a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation Shaffer’s cancer went into a three-year remission.

However, her cancer returned in 2002 as metastatic breast cancer, and spread to her liver, spine and hips. She was given six months to live. That was seven years ago.

“I made a choice based on my belief that in every crisis lies an opportunity — and the ‘Angel of Hope’ was born. I dressed up in a pink satin gown, with a pink wig and glowing pink wings and I began a new life, determined to show that breast cancer — even at the metastatic stage — is not a death sentence,” Shaffer said. “Metastatic breast cancer nowadays should be viewed as a chronic disease amenable to treatment with new treatments developed all the time. I celebrate more than seven years with ‘mets,’ but I will be on chemo for life.”

On a sad note, one of the eldest volunteer angels and mother of Colleen Shaffer passed away this year. Mary Flanagin volunteered at events and hosted the holiday party at her home.

In her memory, Circle of Hope is planning its first ever New Year’s Eve party from 6 to 10 p.m. at Blessed Kateri Church in Saugus. Tickets for the event are $125.

For information, contact (661) 254-5218 or


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