LAFAYETTE -- The only thing more remarkable than the $10,000 one lucky guest will win at Las Trampas Inc.'s upcoming "What's in Our Hat?" fundraising event, is what Las Trampas does every day.

Monday through Sunday, the Lafayette-based nonprofit dedicates itself to supporting individuals with disabilities, helping society by enabling their clients to live, work, shop and add richness to the local community.

Founded in 1958 as a residential school and tucked comfortably into a facility adjacent to its namesake creek near the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail, employment joined independent living as the center's focus in 1985. Four years later, at a fundraising event held in a supporter's home, a Las Trampas client pulled the winning ticket from a top hat. Ever since, a rollicking good time -- the annual "What's in Our Hat?" -- has resulted in one big winner and many victories for the adults who dispense and receive the organization's services.

For many years, Development Director Kathy Merchant said Chevron supplied the big-ticket funds. When Chevron's giving plans changed, Rudney Associates, an Alamo-based financial advisory firm, stepped up to the plate.

"Everything we do is about how it empowers the clients," Merchant said. "Generous benefactors share the mindset of advocates for people with disabilities. They believe you can't live your fullest life in an institution. Our clients are doing community service, they shop Lafayette, they are our neighbors."

The clients also are teachers, of a sort.

"Working at Las Trampas was revealing to me. In being present with them, just being myself, I felt I could effectively touch lives," said Will Shain, and eighth-grader at Stanley Middle School in Lafayette. "I left feeling that I'd gotten much more than I had given."


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At the Lafayette Park Hotel & Spa, where Generations in Jazz will touch off this year's Brazilian theme with classic samba composer Carlos Jobim's "Wave," "Meditation" and "One Note Samba," a global approach to community building will be not just profound, but fun.

"The hat will be a carnaval headdress, with feathers, gold accents and beads," Merchant said. The colors of international flags will celebrate Brazil's World Cup 2014, with volunteers in soccer uniforms and a live, dancing parrot that will "roam around and greet people," according to Merchant.

As always happens, the cards, jewelry and other works of art produced by clients will be on display and available for purchase. Food and libations are provided by the hotel and watched over by the eagle eye of Claude Garbarino, a personal chef and member of one of Las Trampas' founding families.

Silent auction items -- from toe-tapping "music in your home" opportunities with local jazz pianist Bob Athayde or Steinway master Justin Levitt to arts, sports and cultural

outings -- round out the good giving possibilities.

The annual event raises close to $100,000 each year, and Merchant said the constant threat of reductions in their primary funding from the Regional Center of the East Bay, which relies on State and Federal programs for its support, means donations and community support must bridge fiscal gaps.

If Las Trampas is to evolve and grow with the times, its independent living services, technology training and adult day service employment must increase and adapt, she said. Recently, a successful "angel campaign" raised $86,000 for a capital improvements initiative.

"And we've had so many people contact us about the future for their children, we're going to convene a symposium on autism and bring all generations together to talk about the services available to this population," Merchant said.

As medical science improves, children who previously did not live into adulthood are surviving. While it is a blessing to parents, it also extends society's responsibility to this special community.

Las Trampas' 'What's In Our hat' event
  • When: Sunday, April 27, 3 to 6 p.m.
  • Where: Lafayette Park Hotel and Spa, 3287 Mt Diablo Blvd., Lafayette
  • Cost: $100
  • Tickets/info: lastrampas.org, click on "events"