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Heart of the West fundraiser held

Posted: August 30, 2008 8:50 p.m.
Updated: November 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Katie Graham and Kevin Pope got engaged at Heart of the West last week. Graham is the daughter of Carousel Ranch co-founder Becky Graham.

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Behind the slated white boards of the large riding arena guests to the 12th annual Heart of the West Dinner, Auction and Casino Night, watched as what supporters call “miracles on horseback” were performed by five of the clients assisted by Carousel Therapeutic Riding Ranch.

Nathan Andrews, Jenny Barlog, Derek Schaeffer, Cameron Lutges and Dana Sachs starred in the riding demonstration held in the arena at the Blomgren Family Ranch on Sierra Highway.

The fundraiser, which attracted more than 400 hundred guests and volunteers, raised nearly $240,000 for the Agua Dulce nonprofit which provides therapy on horseback to nearly 100 children with a variety of mental and physical disabilities.

“I have been a supporter of Carousel Ranch for a number of years,” said Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar. “They used to be located just down the street from where I live in Sand Canyon, and I have seen first hand the incredible work they do to assist these young children. My heart’s out to them, and I’m here to do anything I can to help them.”

Nathan Andrews, 3, diagnosed with holoprosencephaly, a rare genetic mutation, performed a variety of simple riding skills to the applause of the audience.

“Nathan continues to prove over and over again that anything is possible,” said event narrator Therese Edwards. “Miracles do happen.”

Jenny Barlog, 3, and Derek Schaeffer, 3, performed as a duo, impressing the audience with their accomplishments.

“Each achievement, no matter how small, reminds us of the amazing effect that horses have on all of our children,” Edwards said.

Cameron Lutges, 6, stole the show — and brought the crowd to tears — with his performance. Lutges rides without his leg prosthetics, which allows him to sit comfortably and build up the muscles of his inner thighs.
Dana Sachs, 21, has been riding with Carousel Ranch since age 13. Born with no arms, Sachs capably handled her mount, a skittish “Pacman,” using her foot to hold the reins. For years Sachs had been paired with Baby, the mule. However, Baby died in May and Sachs graduated to a more spirited mount.

“Pacman was a little wild,” Sachs said. “But everybody was more scared about it than me.”

Sachs said she really appreciates all that Carousel Ranch has helped her accomplish.

“It’s a great program and it has been a big part of my life,” she said. “If it wasn’t for Carousel Ranch I wouldn’t be as good a rider as I am.”

Ranch co-founder Denise Tomey said Sachs proved her skills as a horsewoman.

“She never ceases to amaze us,” Tomey said. “Dana showed the equestrian she truly is. She has no limitations and she proved that tonight.”

After the riding demonstration guests wiped away the tears brought on by the inspirational program and headed to dinner and to the silent and live auctions.

Hundreds of silent auction items were arrayed on tables. Beautifully wrapped baskets of goodies competed with gift certificates and movie and sports memorabilia for bids.

The live auction brought about several serious bidding wars as items fetched top dollar to benefit Carousel Ranch.

“The live auction was great,” Tomey said. “Everyone was so generous. I’m so pleased.”

Among the evening’s high ticket auction items was an 18-day trip for four people to Hong Kong, Macau and Cebu which fetched $14,000. A corporate party for 25 at MB2 Raceway earned $2,500 and a Mammoth Mountain luxury condo brought in $3,500, twice, a total of $7,000 to two generous bidders.

A golf package with professional golfer and William S. Hart High School grad Jason Gore was gaveled closed at $4,250. Gore, generously donated a second package for the losing bidder, who also paid $4,250.

The “Lost in Paradise” package, which featured  a trip to Oahu, Hawaii, and a trip to the set of the popular ABC TV program “Lost,” was the subject of a furious bidding war with the winner anteing up $3,100 for the unique experience.

Mayor Bob Kellar and Wayne Crawford donated a “Boys Night Out” barbecue, cigar and scotch night for 12 that saw a winning bid of $1,500.

Crawford, one of Carousel Ranch’s biggest boosters, held rights to the 2008 horseshoe shaped head table and purchased the 2009 table with a winning bid of $1,200.

“This is the best organization out here,” said Crawford. “Everyone should support this organization.”

One of the evening’s unexpected moments came early in the auction as a slide of two horses filled the big auction screen with the caption, “Katie, will you marry me?”

Kevin Pope, 26, of Glendale, popped the question to Katie Graham, 23, daughter of Carousel Ranch co-founder Becky Graham.

The surprised Graham said “yes.”

I knew that Carousel Ranch would be as much a part of my life as it has been of hers,” Pope said. “I knew it would be an appropriate time (to propose at Heart of the West) knowing that it would be creating a lifetime commitment not only to Katie but to the ranch.” 

The engagement was only the first surprise of the evening.

Steve Crosby, of Canyon Country, was so touched by the proposal he purchased one of two $2,200 one-week timeshare vacation packages to any RCI resort in the world to give to the couple as a wedding gift.

“It is amazing that someone would be so giving, to give us a honeymoon,” said a shocked Graham.

Crosby, who was a first time attendee of Heart of the West, had never met Pope or Graham, and had only recently heard of Carousel Ranch.

“It touched my heart,” he said. “Whenever two kids reach out in life like this I think it’s a great opportunity, and I just wish them all the best of luck and a great life together.”

Tomey said she was surprised that a stranger could be so generous.

“He didn’t even know about Carousel Ranch until three weeks ago. It opened the floodgates, people came out of the woodwork to help Katie and Kevin with invitations and other wedding plans,” Tomey said. “That’s the thing about Heart of the West, new people come every year and become part of the Carousel Ranch family and friends. There were a lot of new people this year and that is exciting for us.”

The auction, with auctioneer Mark Drilling performing the honors for the third consecutive year, also asked guests to step up and pledge funds to the Ranch.

Crawford pledged at the $5,000 level, Jason Gore and two other donors each gave $2,500. Dozens of others pledged at the $1,500, $500, $200 and $100 levels raising more than $26,000 in a few minutes of the auctioneer’s time.

“How about a round of applause for everyone who chose to get involved,” Drilling asked of the crowd.

A highlight of the evening was the auction of a 12-week-old chocolate lab puppy which ignited a bidding firestorm — ending in a $1,900 winning bid.

Katie Lakamp, of Saugus, walked away with the pooch, Lakamp, tears streaming down her face, held the unnamed puppy in her lap after she captured the warm and fuzzy prize.

“I just lost my son in February,” she said. “I’ve been talking about getting a dog and I had a chocolate lab before. This is the right time.”

After the auction guests took to the dance floor and earned raffle tickets at the casino night gaming tables.

Heart of the West, the brainchild of Jeanna Crawford who created the event and successfully ran it for many years, was chaired this year by Carousel Ranch’s new event and media coordinator, Heather Edwards.

“Jeanna Crawford was really a hero in putting this all together,” Edwards said.

Edwards thanked the crowd for their attendance.

“You are all extraordinary, you could have stayed home but you chose to come here and participate,” she said. “Thank you for coming and supporting Carousel Ranch.”

Tomey said she was pleased with the successful event.

“We had a good turnout,” Tomey said. “I think it went great and people had a wonderful time. Certainly in this economy I’m thrilled it exceeded our expectations. We’re so fortunate that people have embraced Carousel Ranch. When they come here and see the kids, they can see where the money goes.”

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