The annual L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth dinner is always a tear-jerker, but given the current political state, this year’s celebration was particularly emotional.
“There are so many disenfranchised communities in the U.S., and what these women are doing is catching those people who are falling through the cracks,” said Eva Longoria Bastón, a L’Oréal spokesmodel and one of the evening’s presenters. “If people are lacking education or access to health care or whatever their issue is, these women help them. The problem with our government is that people are falling through the cracks [in the first place].”
Politics aside, the evening was emotional on another note for Karen Fondu, the outgoing president of L’Oréal Paris USA. Throughout her tenure as president, Fondu has championed the Women of Worth program. She divulged that at the time, she didn’t have to push hard to make it happen. “It was something that company embraced,” she said. Fondu brought her two sisters and mother with her to walk the red carpet. “It’s emotional and bittersweet,” she said of her departure.
Every year, the L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth program recognizes 10 women who have started grassroots charitable initiatives in their communities, and awards them $15,000, up this year from the usual $10,000, each to fund their organizations. This year’s national honoree, selected via an online election that garnered a record 346,000 votes was Carly Yoost, cofounder of the Child Rescue Coalition. Yoost was awarded an additional $25,000 for her organization, which utilizes technology to help law enforcement officials track known sexual predators. “We’ve rescued 1,900 children,” said Yoost.
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Organizations representing children were a common theme for this year’s honorees. Among them included DreamWakers, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting underserved children with role models via video chats with professional guest speakers across different industries. Founder Monica Gray noted that she has connected children to people who work at Facebook and the White House. Jessica Kidd, founder of Gracie’s Gowns, was honored for her work designing custom hospital gowns for children undergoing treatment for life-threatening conditions. After losing her son Rory to sepsis, honoree Orlaith Staunton founded the Rory Staunton Foundation for Sepsis Prevention. Kathy Tillotson started Build Futures to provide housing, educational resources and job training for homeless youth, and Diane Latiker opened up her Chicago home to kids in her own community, offering them a safe haven from gangs and gun violence, and a place where they could get homework help, play games and socialize without fearing for their safety.
Aside from children, the topic of female empowerment was top of mind for most everyone, including Blake Lively, who presented national honoree Yoost onto the stage. “It’s as important as ever to celebrate women,” said Lively, L’Oréal spokesmodel and one of the evening’s presenters. “In times like these, you can either curl up and be really depressed about the state of communities that are underserved, or you can set an example for your children. It’s about making that extra bit of effort and that’s what tonight is, celebrating the women who are doing that.”
At one point, CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin volunteered herself for a DreamWakers session. “I got you girl,” she said to Gray.
Diane Keaton was on-hand to present Marian Hamilton, founder of Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center, a space for caregivers at Northern Westchester Hospital to receive free assistance and emotional counseling. Hamilton noted that many caregivers are women. Keaton, a staunch proponent of her own individual style, as usual eschewed the red carpet gown in favor of an oversize white dress by Egg, a Dover Street market find designed by Maureen Doherty, complemented by houndstooth-print nail stickers. “This whole resurgence of Comme de Garçons, and Dover Street Market which she basically put together…she’s about my age and it’s great to see the resurgence of her again.”
Among the women’s issues honored at the event were Leslie’s Week, a nonprofit founded by Sandra Gunn that donates vacation homes to families of women with stage four metastatic breast cancer. Another was Cleaning for a Reason, founded by Debbie Sardone. Her organization provides home cleaning services for women undergoing cancer treatment. Nadya Okamoto was touted by Fondu as the “future” of Women of Worth. The Harvard freshman founded Camions of Care — though she noted the name will change to “Period.,” beginning in early 2017. The Camions of Care Organization works to distribute feminine hygiene products in local communities.