Family Service Agency Raises Funds With ‘Imagine a City’ Gala

(Photos by David Laurell / Burbank Leader) - Jamie Keyser Thomas received the 2022 Mary Alice O’Connor Vision Award at FSA’s “Imagine a City” event. She is pictured with her husband, Michael.

First published in the Oct. 22 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

There was a lot going on at the Pointe this past Saturday evening as the towering structure between Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center and the Burbank Studios, née NBC, served as the venue for the Family Service Agency (FSA) of Burbank’s annual “Imagine a City” gala.
Along with a cocktail reception and silent auction, locals who hadn’t seen one another since the start of the pandemic caught up while candidates in the upcoming municipal election subtly (and not-so-subtly) stumped for support.
As the evening progressed, the event’s host and hostess, Michael and Caroline Cusumano, recognized dignitaries, event sponsors and special guests, dinner was served, and attendees witnessed the presentation of an award given in the name of one of the city’s most beloved volunteers to a woman who is equally beloved.
While all of the 275-plus on hand were excited to be out in support of FSA’s work, a solid majority of them were also interested in jockeying to place themselves in the path of the man who serves as Burbank’s now-nationally-known congressional representative for a few words, a handshake or a photo.
With that activity making for a kinetic event, the main focus of the evening was to raise much-needed funds for FSA and bestow the 2022 Mary Alice O’Connor Vision Award upon Burbank Chamber of Commerce CEO Jamie Keyser for her longstanding and dedicated service to the community.

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And yet, all of those things aside, the most exciting part of the night was yet to come. But more on that in a moment.
The Mary Alice O’Connor Vision Award is given annually by FSA to honor the memory, work and spirit of O’Connor, a longtime dedicated community volunteer and founding board member of the agency who died in 2010.
It was O’Connor’s intention that the award spotlight an individual who shares the Family Service Agency’s sense of urgency to create and sustain safe spaces for Burbank’s youth, adults and families dealing with mental health issues, abuse and homelessness.
“Being in the spotlight is outside my comfort zone,” said Keyser Thomas, who following a two-decade career with the Walt Disney Company took the reins of the chamber in 2020. “But I’m honored and humbled to receive [this award]. Mary Alice was a kind soul and a powerful female leader. I always admired her and cherished the conversations I had with her and her support of me.”
Attributing her ability to do the work she does for the community to the valuable relationships she has built in Burbank, Keyser Thomas thanked FSA’s Executive Director Laurie Bleick and her team for their dedication to mental health awareness and homelessness issues and resources.
“I also thank everyone for believing in me and for your unconditional love and ongoing support,” Keyser Thomas said in closing. “I am able to be who I am in this community because of so many incredible champions behind the scenes.”
While the honoring of Keyser Thomas was a highlight of the evening, even she herself would be the first to say the biggest moment came when state Sen. Anthony Portantino made his way to the stage and made a surprise announcement, that he had secured $400,000 of state funding for FSA.
The following day, Bleick said that what Portantino did was just starting to sink in.
“There was so much going on, a rock star honoree, the presence of our rock star Congressman Adam Schiff, the rock stars who came out to support us, and then having our rock star Sen. Portantino present us with $400,000,” Bleick said. “We could have had an amazing event just to celebrate that alone!”
Reached at his home on Saturday morning, Portantino revealed a serendipitous encounter that resulted in his securing the funding.
“About two months ago I ran into Laurie as she was going into city hall to talk about some of their homelessness and housing issues,” Portantino said. “She expressed that they would be needing additional funding to fulfil their responsibilities. I thought of that conversation as we were putting the finishing touches on the budget and decided to request the funding for FSA.”
Bleick, who recalled that city hall parking lot encounter with Portantino having lasted less than five minutes, said she was on her way in to beg for money for FSA’s homeless shelters.
“Those few minutes with Anthony are an indicator as to what a great listener and an intuitive and knowledgeable person he is,” Bleick said. “He really has his ear to the ground when it comes to the needs in his district. He knows the communities he represents and has extraordinary relationships with the people he serves, very much the way Mary Alice O’Connor did. He is a visionary who makes it a point to pay attention to needs.”
Bleick said the funding Portantino secured for FSA is specifically designated for homelessness that will help their program which houses battered woman and their children.
“This is the single, largest gift we have received in our 69-year history,” Bleick said. “That is not to say that we have not gotten more financial support over the years from the Cusumano family and the Walt Disney Company cumulatively, but this is the biggest single gift we have ever received, and it came at a time that it is vitally needed. It will help us lay the groundwork to do things we have hoped to do. It was a huge shot in the arm for us to do things over the next two years that will help us establish partnerships that will impact what we do for the next two decades, so our gratefulness to Anthony is overwhelming.”
As much as Bleick and the FSA staff appreciated Portantino going to bat for them in Sacramento, the senator said he is also appreciative of the work they do every day of the year in Burbank.
“Laurie values people and is completely dedicated to the organization she oversees whose mission is to help people, so that’s a perfect fit,” Portantino said. “She fights every day for those who need help. The challenges are great, the needs are significant, and the pandemic has made those challenges even more difficult, so to have FSA on the front lines doing what they do in our community, we should all be rallying to support them in every way we can.”
Portantino said that along with being thrilled to have secured the funding for FSA, he was also honored to be in attendance at the event to honor Keyser Thomas.
“Jamie lives and breathes Burbank,” said the senator. “She has been a strong supporter of FSA and embodies the mission of the organization and of Mary Alice O’Connor — of bringing the community together, to be there for one another. She has also done an incredible job at the chamber. It is always a challenge for an institution like the chamber of commerce to respect its history while also instituting new, broader and more progressive perspectives. She does that very well.”
Along with Schiff and Portantino, other notables in attendance at the event included state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, Burbank Mayor Jess Talamantes, Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony, Councilwoman Sharon Springer, former Mayor Marsha Ramos, former Police Chief Scott LaChasse, and Burbank’s current police chief, Michael Albanese who also serves as the president of the FSA board of directors. Other FSA board members in attendance were Brian Miller, Teri Stein, Mary Alvord and Yasmine Wolfe.
For more information about the agency and its services, or to make a financial donation, call (818) 845-7671 or visit

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at or (818) 563-1007.