Getting in some early holiday shopping and rubbing shoulders with a celebrity — all on the same day. Hey, somebody’s got to do it.

‘Blitzen’s Bash’

A couple of weeks earlier than usual, the Junior League kicked off its annual Hollydays market with the “Blitzen’s Bash” gala Sept. 30. The River Center galleria was resplendent in holiday glitz for the party that featured early shopping opportunities with the more than 200 merchants from across the United States, several of which were new to Hollydays. Providing the perfect party music was the Boogie Men from New Orleans. I mean, how many bands cover Chicago and Gino Vannelli, and do it well?

As always, this is a see-and-be-seen event and this year was no exception. Among the VIP shoppers I got to visit with were the first Hollydays Chairwoman Nell McAnelly and daughter Megan, Ann and Steve Storey, Dr. Dickie and Denise Robichaux, Diane and Johnny Tate, Marianne and Bobby Freeman, Liz and Kevin Harris, Kim and Mark Morgan, Kathy and Michael Victorian, Ann Hamilton, Ashley LaBorde Vinci, Brooke Barnett, Bobby Bernard and Eddie Sims, Andrew Engolio, Yolanda Dixon, Susan Eaton, Lucy Acosta, Debi Grymes, Kim Johnson, Sister Dulce Maria (who had her own Hollydays booth, The Shepherd’s Staff) and Mayor Kip Holden.

O’Brien House

Earlier that morning, Christopher Kennedy Lawford held the rapt attention of the 450 attendees at the 13th annual O’Brien House breakfast at the Renaissance Hotel. Now in recovery for 29 years, he referred to addiction as “dancing with a 800-pound gorilla — you dance whenever and however the gorilla says.”

“I’m from a family where addiction doesn’t run, it gallops,” said Lawford, son of Patricia Kennedy, sister to slain President John F. Kennedy, and actor Peter Lawford. “I was born with the addict’s hole in my soul. Better living through better chemistry became my credo.”

He pointed out that medical science has proven that addition is a brain disorder, but that there is still a stigma attached to addiction.

“I speak out about addition because it’s an equal opportunity disease and to urge others to do the same,” he continued. “Recovery is possible.”

And so, he believes, is ending the stigma attached to this illness.

“Those of us who have found a way out need to go back and share how we recovered,” said Lawford. “Society cares about this illness and want people to get better but they don’t think they will. These attitudes will change when we have irrefutable science that this is a disease.

“There is no pill or one-size-fits-all program,” he continued. “It’s imperative that we address the underlying causes and risks of addiction. In doing so, we’ll change attitudes.”

He went on to praise the work being done at O’Brien House and East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore’s DWI Pre-Trial Program, “one of the most effective programs in the U.S. assisting first-time offenders.” Moore served as honorary chairman of the breakfast.

Also addressing breakfast-goers were Mary and Tom Acosta, who lost their son William several months ago to a heroin overdose.

“There’s no pain like looking in the coffin at your 20-year-old son,” shared Mary. “Chris, I’m not a Democrat but I love you!”

The evening before, the O’Brien House board hosted a meet-and-greet with Lawford at LSU’s Lod Cook Alumni Center where we got to hear from Lawford’s long-time friend, Cary Menard, of Mandeville. The two met when Menard was living in Los Angeles.

“He walks the walk,” Menard said of his friend. “He’s a real person and I’m pleased to call him my dear friend.”

Executive Director Todd Hamilton presented Lawford with the gold chip presented to O’Brien House graduates and a copy of Cyril Vetter’s “Fonville Winans’ Louisiana.” Vetter helped to underwrite Lawford’s visit to Baton Rouge.

Jazz Masters

In between these two events, I popped in at the Manship Theatre for a quick photo of those celebrating the opening of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge’s River City Jazz Masters series. They were all excited and talking about the night’s performer, renowned trumpeter and composer Sean Jones, who has released five albums and toured internationally in 2011 with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter for the “Tribute to Miles” tour.

Next up in the series is the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet, which takes the Manship stage Nov. 10.

Families Helping Families

The week began at the open house hosted by Families Helping Families Sept. 29. Aside from a tour of the facility, attendees were shown a short emotional video sharing the stories of several families assisted by the nonprofit organization.

Led by Executive Director Jamie Tindle, Families Helping Families is a resource center for individuals with disabilities and their families that is directed and staffed by parents or family members of children with disabilities or adults with disabilities.

Woman’s Club

The week wrapped up at the Woman’s Club first coffee of its 2015-2016 season Oct. 1. The morning’s program featured artist Patsi Prince and Baton Rouge Symphony President Cary Byrd as speaker.

Attendees checked out Prince’s paintings as they sampled the goodies provided by board members and beverages poured by Mary Ladner and Jane Dimattia. Debra Tarter and Jackie Kreutzer served as greeters.

Byrd highlighted the symphony’s 2015-2016 season, including the previous week’s announcement of a return engagement by renowned soprano Renée Fleming for the Irene W. & C.B. Pennington Foundation Great Performers in Concert event May 13. He also shared news of the Pennington Foundation’s $1 million challenge grant. For every new or increased donation until the end of the year, the foundation will match it dollar for dollar up to $500,000.

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