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Desert Club: Inspiring women for 60 years

By: Melissa Hirschi

Sept. 23, 2006

It’s time for some very special ladies to take a bow. For sixty years the dedicated women of the Desert Club have invested a vast amount of time and energy into enriching the Kyrene Corridor and much of the southeast Valley.

Founded in 1946, Desert Club is a non-profit service organization that gives wings to the hopes and dreams of many Southeast Valley students via scholarships and community projects. Its members also provide community grants to non-profit organizations serving women and children.

What a lot of these grateful recipients may not know is that the majority of the money raised for their scholarships comes from the Christmas Idea House – the group’s premier fundraiser. Even though it’s still hot enough to get a third degree burn from your steering wheel, the gals at Desert Club are gleefully awaiting this annual extravaganza.

This is no small feat – the weekend brings in a stunning $100,000 a year.

Desert Club members delight in discovering custom-home owners in the southeast Valley to sponsor their gala home tour. A seasonal tradition, the event is often hosted by high-profile residents such as homebuilder Ira Fulton, who graciously loaned his home twice.

During this yearly “winter wonderland,” visitors have the opportunity to peruse beguiling and elegant Christmas decorations that are for sale. Examples include homemade and market items such as iron luminarias, wreaths, dolls, dollhouses, braided garlands, baskets filled with candy, lap blankets, teddy bears and more. To add to the enchantment, each room has a unique decorative flavor.

The paramount opportunity to see the house is through a luxurious gala dinner and dance held the Thursday evening before the weekend tour (typically $75 per person). A silent auction is also part of the festivities.

After touring the home, the dinner and dance are either at the premises or at a local hotel such as the Pointe or Buttes. The next day is called Sneak Preview ($50) and includes tour and brunch. The weekend tour for the general public is $10.

While club members put their heart and soul into the Christmas Idea House, it is the philanthropic component that yields the biggest sense of personal satisfaction.

“We’ve given out over $2 million since our inception 60 years ago,” says Past President Glenda Stechnij.

“And we’ve made $100,000 each year since 1992, a fact we’re very excited about. There is a strong community need, and we’re happy to help out. People think that parents save their money for college, but you find out some of these kids are totally on their own, working and putting themselves through school.”

One community project in particular resonates for long time member Mary Alexsen. 

“My daughter’s Spanish teacher at Pueblo Middle School had a son who was in a horrible car accident,” she begins.

“Unfortunately, he was left pretty incapacitated. My heart broke for this woman who was constantly visiting him in the nursing home. The staff there told this teacher that her son was visually following the fish in the nursing home’s fish tank.

“When her son got moved home, our organization provided the family with $1,000 toward with the purchase of a fish tank.”

According to Axelsen, two-thirds of the proceeds go toward scholarships for local teens—those with stellar abilities but with grades that are not quite high enough to merit a traditional scholarship.

Many of the scholarship winners work 30 to 35 hours a week as well as participate in school and community activities. The only caveat for receiving scholarships is that the student needs to keep the money in the state and attend a local school.”

“Some of these kids have alcohol abuse in their family or have lost a parent,” says Axelsen. “Our club gives them opportunities that otherwise would slip through their hands.”

The philanthropic group, which has approximately 50 active members, also gives money to various community projects and organizations that Alexsen says would not exist without their help. Some past recipients of the club’s generosity have been Kyrene de la Mariposa, Child Crisis Center, and McClintock High School.

The Desert Club is one way Kyrene Corridor women contribute to those less fortunate and form lifetime friendships at the same time. In the spring, the women brainstorm the Idea House; in the fall and in spring they creatively plan strategies for distributing the money they’ve raised.

The group meets from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the Women’s Club in downtown Mesa from September through April.

The next meeting is Sept. 27, which also marks the club's 60th anniversary party. For more information, contact Glenda Stechnij (480) 380-5000.


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