The Saddleback Foundation’s 16th Annual Gala focuses on students

Attendees of The Saddleback Foundation's 16th Gala sit down Saturday night as they prepare to hear from the events guest speakers. (Photo courtesy of

Attendees of The Saddleback Foundation’s 16th Gala sit down Saturday night as they prepare to hear from the events guest speakers. (Photo courtesy of

The Saddleback College Foundation held its 16th Annual Gala Saturday night in effort to benefit the students and programs at Saddleback College.

The cocktail style event took place at the Laguna Cliffs Marriot Resort and Spa in Dana Point. The gala featured a three-course dinner, entertainment, guest speakers and more importantly—the silent and live auctions.

The gala kicked off with a silent auction the night before, auctioning off items that included Martini baskets, Anaheim Ducks tickets, local art and even a weekend get away to the Laguna Cliffs Marriot Resort itself. While the live auction featured more luxurious packages like a Palm Springs getaway and a one-week stay in the Caribbean.

Prior to the live auction, audience members and donors had the opportunity to hear the gala’s guest speakers—one of these speakers was 2015 Alumna and valedictorian Lydia Nataloo.

“Many endure the journey because they know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, please do not stop supporting us, never get weary about doing good,” Nataloo said in her speech. “You may never know that there is another Lydia at Saddleback College.”

Nataloo is a native of a small village in Uganda, starting her journey to education by walking two hours to school everyday. She remembers the struggles she had growing up, and in awe of the audience—was the youngest of 28 children. She often only had one meal a day.

“I’m deeply grateful, humbled and blessed to be alive today. In a world with so many troubles, I’m always reminded that there is a higher purpose for me to fulfill in this world,” Nataloo said in her speech.

Nataloo attributes Saddleback as the base to a lot of her successes in her life thus far.

“Even after speech today, I look at Saddleback College didn’t jut give me a degree, but changed the trajectory or my life. Not having a family here, Saddleback became family to me,” Nataloo said.

Organizations like the Saddleback Foundation are vital for students like Nataloo. However, a common problem is students are either unaware of these services or don’t know where to go. ASG President William Vassetizadeh, who also spoke at the gala recognize that it is a problem among the student body.

“I attend a lot of different meetings and it’s pretty well know throughout the campus that a lot of students struggle with finances,” Vassetizadeh said. “The student government has taken initiatives like the food drive and the holiday toy drive to help some of those Saddleback families.”

While Vassetizadeh says that ASG doesn’t have a direct role in advertising financial aide type services on campus, they effect change by representing the student body.

“The student government—the way we effect change is by representing students,” Vassetizadeh said. “We are the associated student government and our goal is to represent students on campus-wide committees, with the presidents, the deans, the administrators, the faculty, the staff—and any change that we ultimately want to effect goes through that avenue.”

Along with campus-wide change, the gala itself has experienced significant change. Saddleback College President Tod Burnett says that out of the seven foundation gala events he’s been to, this one has been comparatively successful.

“This is my seventh foundation gala and frankly the gala today is nothing like it was seven years ago—first and foremost we’ve raised three or four times the amount of money,” Burnett said. “The amount of money net bases is about five times more.”

Burnett says the change that he loves the most is that the gala has started to focus more and more about what is important—the students.

“My first year at Saddleback I went to the gala and they never said anything about students—I don’t think there were really any students there,” Burnett said. “It was really not a good event. We’re very thrilled to bring back to what it’s all about—our students.”

And that is what the gala is all about, helping student succeed at Saddleback College. Students like Nataloo are examples of what the Foundation and the gala can do for student success.

“My story at Saddleback, what I experienced, somebody who heard my story and took care of my debt for almost $20,000,” Nataloo said. “I didn’t even know this person—he didn’t even know who I was, but he just wanted to do something for someone—that is why I do what I do.”