KidWorks 15th Annual “Foundation for Success” will honor CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, and the Teahouse Gang, a group of Orange County real estate professionals who were deeply instrumental in the creation of KidWorks’ Dan Donahue Center, which opened in late 2005.

Due to COVID, the luncheon will once again be held virtually along with a donor reception to honor the founding members in person.

Both CBRE and the Teahouse Gang were deeply instrumental in KidWorks’ creation and our evolution as we approach 30 years of service in central Santa Ana.

Bob Howard, a founding Teahouse Gang member, and Bart Brown, a decades-long colleague of the group, share their recollections:

Bob Howard: A founding Teahouse Gang Member

Bob Howard was one of the founding members of the Teahouse gang in the 1960s. Bob, employed as real estate broker at the time, was one of about 20 employees at  Coldwell Banker’s small office located at the corner of Avocado Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach. 

Bob and his colleagues soon formed a social group that got together each Christmas for a big party at the Ritz Restaurant. The name Teahouse was inspired by what they saw as their office’s resemblance to a small tea shop.

“For years, we had these memorable Christmas parties,” Bob recalls. “Each year, we’d go around the table, and everyone would give an update on what they’d been up to since the last get-together. At the 2000 party, a life-changing moment occurred.

“Dan Donahue, a major developer of large shopping centers throughout Southern California, said it was time for the Teahouse Gang to consider giving back to the community by doing more for others in need.”

Adds Bob, “We were all deeply moved by Dan’s suggestion. Four or five Teahouse Gang members mobilized and met every week to bring his vision into reality.” 

At the time, Bob was serving on the board of a Christian non-profit, called HomeWord, whose mission is to bring hope and help to struggling families and kids. 

“That’s where I met and became friends with Dr. Larry Acosta, founder of the Hispanic Ministry Center,  and a young intern from Biola University, David Benavides, now KidWorks’ Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director. 

Bob and Larry began to talk about how to act on Dan Donahue’s vision that the Teahouse Gang help families in need.  

“The Teahouse Gang sprang into action to take up Dan’s dramatic call for action,” Bob says. “We decided that KidWorks would be our charity of choice and we partnered with them by delivering food to needy families at Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

That was just the start.

“Using what we learned from our epic Christmas events, we decided to do what we do best, throw a party,” Bob recalls. “The Teahouse Gang organized a rock and roll party at Bommer Canyon in Irvine that raised $50,000 in proceeds for KidWorks. The following year, the party raised an additional $100,000 for KidWorks. As we were planning the third annual event, Dan unexpectedly passed away, leaving us heartbroken.”

For many years, Bob has served on the Balboa Bay Club Board of Governors. The year following Dan’s passing, he and others helped organize a Teahouse Gang party at the club that drew 500 attendees to honor Dan and also served to raise $1 million that eventually went towards the purchase of land and an old building where the original Dan Donahue Center opened in late 2005.

Tom Schriber, a Teahouse Gang member, co-founded Donahue Schriber, a major shopping center development company, with Dan Donahue. Tom was very instrumental in the success of the Balboa Bay Club event.

“It’s just phenomenal to think about the legacy Dan, CBRE, the Teahouse Gang and others have created,” Bob says. “Thousands of students have successfully gone through KidWorks’ programs, earned college degrees and gone on to great jobs.”

Bob has also seen the Orange County real estate industry experience tremendous growth and success since he and his family first planted roots in Orange County back in the 1960s.

“Many of the colleagues I worked with who were part of the Teahouse gang or who were employed at Coldwell Banker went on to form small, medium and large companies of their own,” Bob says.  

The annual Teahouse Gang’s Christmas party tradition continues to this day. 

“The group now consists of about 50 men and women,” Bob says.  “Richard Dick leads the holiday effort.”

Today, Bob continues to work as a real estate industry consultant. He and his wife, Cleva, have been married for 61 years, and have three adult children, Karen, Sharon and Douglas.

Bob is a big champion of the KidWorks model for reaching underserved families that has been so successful in Santa Ana.

“I really feel the KidWorks’ template can be reproduced across the country,” Bob says.  “Back when Larry Acosta and I first spoke about his ministry and how the Teahouse Gang could partner, I had no concept that Dan Donahue’s vision would be realized in such a powerful way.  It’s absolutely inspiring.”

Adds Bob, “When one thinks that the Teahouse Gang started out by giving Thanksgiving and Christmas gift baskets to needy families in Santa Ana just over 20 years ago, and that now KidWorks’ annual budget is in excess of $3 million and impacts the lives of  thousands of kids and their families, it literally gives me goosebumps.”

Bart Brown: A longtime friend and colleague of the Teahouse Gang

Bart Brown also witnessed how Dan Donahue’s “giving back” vision for the Teahouse Gang first took root.

“The initial activity we did for KidWorks took place around 2000 and involved putting together Christmas gift baskets with food and other essentials for KidWorks’ families,” Bart recalls. “Of course, we had no idea at the time this would lead to what KidWorks is today.”

Bart’s connection with the Teahouse Gang goes back nearly 30 years when he worked as a commercial real estate professional for Coldwell Banker, assigned to their Santa Ana office. He often spent time at Coldwell Banker’s Newport Beach office, where he got to know the Teahouse Gang members when they worked on mutual business transactions.

While not a member of the original Teahouse group himself, Bart witnessed how Dan Donahue’s idea of giving back evolved from the Christmas basket project to other acts of generosity by the group on behalf of KidWorks.

While some of the Teahouse Gang members have passed away, Bart still stays in touch with living members, including Steve Barnard, Clark Booth, Jim Croul, Richard Dick and Bob Howard.  Some members still volunteer at KidWorks and support us in various ways to this day.

Bart is among those, having been an active afterschool programs volunteer at our Townsend Center since 2006, tutoring kindergarten through fifth grade students. He hopes to return to tutoring as pandemic restrictions ease.

Bart is one of several retired Teahouse gang members who have volunteered at KidWorks, including Peter Marr (who has passed away) and Dan Sweet.

“Often, as we walked to the Townsend Center over the years, children and youth in the neighborhood would call out, ‘Hi, Mr. Bart,’ ‘Hi, Mr. Dan,’ and ‘Hi, Mr. Peter,’” Bart says. “We would often see young adults we tutored years ago who have now gone on to graduate high school and pursue their higher educations. Our hope is that even more children and youth from the neighborhood will experience KidWorks. We encourage supporters of the KidWorks’ mission to volunteer as tutors.  You will be amazed at the fun and satisfaction you will experience.”

Now 84-years old, Bart retired from Coldwell Banker office in Santa Ana in 1999 after 29 years of service. He and his wife, Laurie, recently celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary; they have two daughters, Kimberly and Kristen.

In 2018, Bart was recognized as our November “Volunteer of the Month.”  “Over the years, KidWorks blossomed around me,” he said at the time. 

CBRE, Newport Beach: A trusted and generous partner over the years

CBRE grew out of the original Coldwell Banker & Company, where the Teahouse Gang formed in the Newport Beach office. Today, CBRE describe themselves as “the world’s leading full-service real estate services and investment firm with broader and deeper capabilities than any company in our sector.”

At KidWorks, we also describe the team at the Newport Beach office as a long-term partner and supporter, a relationship that goes back many years.  That’s why we are honored to jointly recognize CBRE’s Newport Beach team along with the Teahouse Gang at the 2021 Foundation for Success luncheon. 

CBRE’s presence in Orange County was preceded by the opening of Coldwell Bankers’ Newport Beach office around 1960 as part of an expansion of their Los Angeles operations.  Coldwell Banker’s Newport Beach office was established chiefly to accommodate the sale and leasing needs of the Irvine Company.

Leading Coldwell Banker’s operations in Orange County was John B. Parker, a Senior Vice President at Coldwell Banker. Bob Howard says that John and about 20 “hard charging, fun-loving young brokers” eventually became the original members of the Teahouse Gang. John’s son, Russ, is now an active Teahouse Gang member.

CBRE has walked alongside KidWorks in countless ways, including:

Moreover, we have benefitted from wise advice and counsel from leaders in the Newport Beach office.

Key among those is Sharon Kline, who recently retired as Executive Vice President of Debt & Structured Finance at CBRE.  

Sharon currently serves on KidWorks’ advisory council and finance committee, and previously served on our board of directors for several years. 

She has been co-chair of our highly successful KidWorks Golf Classic since its inception, and also served on the leadership committee for our equally respected Foundation for Success luncheon from the very start.

Sharon has also helped introduce CBRE employees to KidWorks. One example is Melissa Ley, Vice President Investment Sales – Net Lease Properties at CBRE, who is a founding member of Young Professionals for KidWorks and has been honored as one of our Volunteers of the Month.

Kurt Strasmann, Executive Managing Director of CBRE’s Newport Beach office, expressed his appreciation for their partnership with KidWorks.

“Great people like Sharon and Melissa, along with other employees who’ve supported KidWorks, really exemplify our commitment to citizenship in the communities where we operate,” Kurt says. “It’s so amazing to see the impact this partnership has had over the years.  I’m honored to accept the 2021 KidWorks Dan Donahue Leadership Award on behalf of everyone at CBRE’s Newport Beach office. “

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer