In addition to operating one of the world’s most profitable retail centers and endowing a world-class cultural center, the Segerstrom family has a foundation that gives back to charities nationwide. The Segerstrom Foundation was formed in 1987 and made its first gift in 1988. Since its inception, approximately 90 charitable organizations have received gifts from the foundation, including the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, South Coast Repertory and Pacific Symphony Orchestra.
“From birth, our parents and the family have always done something; just learned by doing,” said Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, a fourth-generation member of the family whose own charity, The Festival of Children, celebrates its 15th anniversary next year.
Segerstrom Daniels’ father was Hal Segerstrom, first cousin of Henry Segerstrom. The two men shepherded South Coast Plaza together until Hal’s death in 1994.
“Our parents were always leading Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and the marching band,” she said. “I’m the youngest sibling in my family, so I grew up babysitting and that’s how children became my passion.”
In 2002, The Festival of Children began an annual celebration at South Coast Plaza, during which 60 of some of its 480 organizations across the country set up booths for people to learn more and get involved. The retail center puts on programming and events to draw customers. The Festival of Children’s annual fund-raiser is also unique; it takes place on a carousel and fund-raisers were not allowed to get off of it until they reached their goal.
“The way it started was we were doing a fund-raiser with the Orange Country Register at the time called The Possible Dream grant program. It was the year of the Recession and we were about $85,000 short of being able to fund all 10 of these charities’ dreams 100 percent. So we called up Orange County business and civic leaders we asked them to come get on the carousel and we wouldn’t let them get off until they raised $4,000 each calling people with their cell phones. Within an hour and a half we’d raised $85k and it only cost us about $30 for plastic cups because everything was donated,” explained Segerstrom Daniels.
The foundation has raised more than $2 million on carousels for 65 charities across the country. Since then, it has changed to a team-raiser format so the carousel ride is more of a ceremonial event. “We got in at Disneyland, which was my dream outside of the carousels at South Coast Plaza and Central Park in New York. Disney said, ‘We can do it but we can’t have riders on their cell phones because we don’t think it will be safe,’” she laughed.
Her next carousel event will be on Feb. 28 of next year, National Rare Disease Day, with a fund-raiser for GlobalGenes.org at San Francisco’s Children’s Museum.
One of Segerstrom’s goals has been to have the month of September officially dedicated as National Child Awareness Month. She accomplished that nine years ago by lobbying the U.S. Senate, but she must work to have it renewed each year. “It was a great moment for South Coast Plaza one year when [former U.S. Representative] Loretta Sanchez was on the floor and she called me and South Coast Plaza out.”
She calls her family’s retail company “a very philanthropic company as well. There was a couple of years where we were short on funding for our Sharing the Spirit holiday party and I sent a company e-mail around and next thing I know I’ve got 20 kids sponsored.”
Segerstrom, like her relatives, isn’t always at ease talking about herself, but she does have a sense of humor. “Since we are the Festival of Children Foundation, we called ourselves the FOC-ers. I’m the mother FOC-er,” she laughs.