Julia Argyros and her daughters, Stephanie and Lisa, are committed to paying it forward.
Julia Argyros remembers attending the Red Heart Ball, hosted by the Orange County Chapter of the American Heart Association, soon after she and George were married and had moved to Tustin.
“It was the first time my eyes were opened to philanthropy,” she says. “The light turned on for me.”
Pretty soon, according to Julia, George’s business was off and running and philanthropy became very real for this generous couple.
Julia also credits both their upbringings to gaining a heart for giving.
“George and I both grew up in middle class families, full of love,” she says. “Philanthropy was nonexistent as we know it today. Most of our money went to the church, helping our neighbors, the Kiwanis Club, and children’s projects. We gave on a small scale, just as others gave to us.”
Julia Henderson was born and raised in Adrian, Michigan, a town of 29,000 at the time.
“When my dad told me three weeks before I was starting my freshman year at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo that the family was moving to California, I decided to stay in Michigan that year and later joined my parents in Orange, California. I completed my degree in speech therapy at Long Beach State, now called Cal State Long Beach.”
It was during Julia’s time at Cal State Long Beach that she met George Argyros, a recent Chapman University graduate, at the long-gone Snack Shop in Orange. They were married two weeks after her graduation on June 17, 1962. After Julia worked as a speech therapist for the Garden Grove public schools for several years, the couple started a family, which eventually included Stephanie, Lisa and George, Jr., and the lessons in philanthropy began.
“I think our children learned about giving to others through osmosis,” Julia says. “They grew up being exposed to lots of different charities because we took them with us, and through that, they got the spirit.”
“I couldn’t be happier with the way they’ve gravitated to it. All three children have initiated their own charity involvements and are very strategic and thoughtful about their giving.”
Stephanie’s Giving History
Stephanie spent two years at Southern Methodist University before transferring to University of Southern California for a degree in communications, and today is president and CEO of The Argyros Group, a prominent West Coast real estate company working in luxury residential real estate.
The budding philanthropist decided in the mid-1990s that she wanted to help abused and neglected children at Orangewood Children’s Home (today the Orangewood Children & Family Center) by founding a support group called Orangewood PALS to attract young members in order to engage the next generation of givers.
Stephanie is also a big supporter of CHOC Children’s Hospital, serves on its foundation board and has been active in its fundraising events, as well as being a major contributor to CHOC’s capital campaign (the Argyros Family Foundation has given more than $8 million to CHOC). She also volunteers at the hospital several times a year by doing arts and crafts with patients and bringing decorations for the CHOC lobby Christmas tree and decorating it with her children. Stephanie and her mom, Julia, are also official “cuddlers” in CHOC’s NICU.
Stephanie’s involvement with the Starkey Hearing Foundation took her to La Paz, Mexico, where she, her parents and children helped fit children and adults with hearing aids. Since 2010, she has given her time to Operation Smile, having gone on a mission to Peru to see first-hand the success of the nonprofit’s cleft lip and palate repair surgeries for children and young adults.
“I like to get involved, not just financially, but at the hands-on level,” Stephanie says.
Also on Stephanie’s radar is the plight of Lizzie Velásquez, a young woman who suffers from a rare congenital disease that keeps her weight at 60 pounds, for whom the anti-bullying documentary, “A Brave Heart: The Lizzy Velásquez Story,” was featured at this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival. Stephanie and her parents hosted 150 people at the Argyros’ Newport Beach home to hear her story.
Since 2009, Stephanie has also been a big supporter and advocate for Human Options, which provides emergency shelter and transitional housing programs for victims of domestic violence. However, it’s the dynamo’s latest nonprofit venture that has her really excited. Stephanie has made a $1 million donation through the Argyros Family Foundation and a three-year commitment as Southern California co-chair of WE Day California, a stadium-sized event that will bring together world-renowned speakers and rock-star performers with tens of thousands of youth on April 7, 2016, at the LA Forum to celebrate the power young people have to change the world.
According to Stephanie, the WE Schools program, which partners with local school districts, encourages students to earn a ticket to WE Day by taking action on one local and one global cause.
“I like the program because it inspires kids to help others. The children can pick their charity. It can be the family next door. Then, they set a goal and raise the money. The money they raise goes directly to their cause, and they get a ticket to WE Day when completed.”
This year alone, 200,000 young people will come together in 14 stadium gatherings across the U.S., Canada and UK to take part in the unprecedented educational initiative.
Stephanie’s children are WE Day ambassadors at their respective schools in Newport Beach.
“I think teaching them tangibly and showing them how it feels to change someone’s world makes an impact on them,” she says of her children’s involvement.
Lisa’s Giving History
Lisa Argyros, a graduate of Chapman University with a degree in psychology (she is a member of Chapman’s Board of Governors), also believes in getting involved with the nonprofits she supports. Following the family tradition of supporting education, Lisa is deeply involved with Orange County School of the Arts and Sage Hill School. She volunteers at both schools, helping with food, a multi-cultural fair, teacher appreciation day, etc.
Having always had an interest in science, Lisa supports the science programs at both schools and has given $2.5 million to build the Lisa Argyros and Family Science Center at Sage Hill and $1.5 million for The Argyros Science Center at OCSA, which just opened.
“I think advances in science are a way we can really help society, and introducing science to young children is part of that,” she says.
Lisa is a new supporter to Project Hope Alliance, which helps the most lost children in Orange County–the 32,500+ homeless, and she fervently believes in the mission of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and its quest to help foster children forgotten in the system. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach is a longtime favorite, due to her love of animals.
“As a child I would bring home injured birds and animals and nurse them back to health. I hoped to be a veterinarian when I grew up,” she says.
She has been taking her children to PMMC since they were little.
“They do wonderful work educating children and healing ocean mammals, and I am happy to be able to be a part of what they do.”
Lisa has always loved art, music, film and theater and believes that artistic expression is an important aspect of our humanity. She supports Film Independent in Los Angeles and its mission of championing the cause of independent film and support of its artists, and she has reached out to the Irvine Museum and the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association with her time and financial help.
“As a child I loved to paint, and I also enjoyed learning piano and other musical instruments. I still enjoy painting in my free time, as does my daughter.”
But, the art project she is most interested in at the moment is an exhibit coming to Orange County early in 2016. Lisa is sponsoring an art show for President George W. Bush to raise money for the George W. Bush Presidential Center. The exhibit, titled “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy,” showcases portraits of world leaders painted by the President. The portraits are accompanied by artifacts, photographs, and personal reflections to help illustrate the stories of relationships formed on the world stage and will be held at Lisa’s parents home in Newport Beach.
Lisa is very proud of her sons, who both perform in their own bands, and volunteer their performances to nonprofits in the area.
“I try and lead by example, so they can see what impact they can have,” Lisa says.
Both girls say their parents and grandparents have been a huge influence in their philanthropic journey.
“Our grandparents influenced our parents. They didn’t have a lot of money, but they gave to their church, and our grandfather made floats for our mom’s school events,” Lisa says. “Our father’s mother was a nurse, and she was always volunteering at the hospital and at church,” says Stephanie.
George Argyros, Jr., who resides in Florida with his wife Shannon and their son also has a plethora of charities he supports in the region.
Julia’s and George’s Giving History
Trying to list the multitude of nonprofits Julia and George Argyros have reached out to themselves and through the Argyros Family Foundation is too numerous to mention. I can only tell you it is most impressive. The highlights include Segerstrom Center for the Arts (more about that later), South Coast Repertory ((Julianne Argyros Stage), Chapman University, from whom they have both received honorary doctorates (Argyros School of Business and Economics, Julianne Argyros Fitness Center, Julianne Argyros Orchestra Hall in Musco Center for the Arts, The Ambassador George L. Argyros ’59 Global Citizens Plaza and the Julianne Argyros Fountain), Discovery Cube (Julianne Argyros Showcase Theater and Exhibition Hall), Cal State Long Beach (ongoing student scholarships), Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace (donated time and millions of dollars over the years), Hoag Hospital Foundation (most recently launched a $3 million Nursing Scholarship Program, the largest in the country, in honor of Julia’s sister Connie), Alzheimer’s Association Orange County (given $2.7 million collectively to research and caregiver programs), millions to domestic violence nonprofits Human Options and Laura’s House, and the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans – while George was Ambassador to Spain, he and Julia launched a $15 million national college scholarship program for Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans through the association.
The latest philanthropic endeavor of the Argyros Family Foundation is the lead gift of $13.5 million to Segerstrom Center for the Arts and its Next Act Campaign, which is anchored by the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza. The large, open public space, between Segerstrom Hall and the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, will offer a multi-purpose community stage with a host of guest amenities, including a café with relaxed outdoor seating. For more than 30 weekends a year, a vast array of free programming and events will be held on the plaza.
“Most performing arts centers don’t have an outdoor space for a public plaza,” Julia says. “Thanks to the Segerstrom family, we have that space, and it will be a magical place for people to come together to experience the arts.”
And, finally, the measure of this spirited philanthropist is found when Julia and George visited her hometown, Adrian, Michigan, two years ago. When Julia dropped by the Adrian High School Alumni Association’s Outstanding Alumni Awards Ceremony, she announced a $1 million gift to the Adrian Schools Educational Foundation Arts Endowment. Every K-12 child in the Adrian public schools now has that opportunity. Later that day, she donated $1 million to the Croswell Opera House to help with its 150th Anniversary Campaign to increase programming, make technical and structural improvements and achieve long term sustainability for the opera house.
What drives her? As president of the Argyros Family Foundation, Julia’s giving philosophy has been influenced by George, who she says always encouraged her to dream big.
“I want to keep dreaming about the good things we can do to help others and how we can make life better for people,” she says.
It looks like the circle of giving that started with Julia’s and George’s parents and gained momentum through Julia and George, their children and grandchildren has touched thousands of lives in many wonderful ways and continues to thrive.
When asked how she would like to be remembered and perhaps what she would like on her tombstone, this dynamic lady succinctly replies,
“Loving wife and mother. Life was too short. I have more to do.”