A Celebration of Will - A CAF Gala to Honor the Legacy of Robin Williams

February 26, 2015

Robin Williams will be in the spotlight once again Saturday.

Following the comedian's death last August, a supporter of one of Williams' favorite charities, the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), put forth his own challenge.

"If you create an endowment fund in Robin Williams' name, I'll match it dollar for dollar," the Chicago man told Jeffrey Essakow, CAF president and co-founder.

When Essakow suggested they might raise $1 million or more, the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, told him: "If you raise $1 million, I'll give you $1 million... For a gift to be meaningful it has to hurt."

Essakow and co-founders Bob Babbitt and Rick Kozlowski are doing their best to make it hurt. With the help of Jeff Jacobs, they've organized a gala Saturday at Rancho Valencia that they expect will bring in at least $1 million.

The comedian's daughter, Zelda Williams, kicked off the drive, making a $50,000 award in her father's memory to his CAF teammates Scott Tinley and Rudy Garcia-Tolson at the Feb. 27 Noble Awards in Beverly Hills honoring entertainers' philanthropic work.

"Dad did the 44-mile leg of the CAF triathlon with Rudy and Scott from 1998 until his health no longer allowed him to do so in 2009, and it meant the world to him," she posted on her Instagram site.

The nonprofit group provides support and adaptive prosthetics and equipment to physically challenged people trying to regain mobility through sports to lead active lives.

It started modestly in 1994 with the first San Diego Triathlon Challenge staged at La Jolla Cove to help one athlete, Jim MacLaren, after a debilitating accident in a triathlon competition.

Since then, the group's financials show $60 million has been raised, primarily via the triathlon each October, an annual San Francisco-to-San Diego cycling event and a New York gala.

Zelda is slated to be there Saturday, as are her mother Marsha Graces, Robin's second wife, and other family members, the son of late actor Christopher Reeve and Hollywood A-list and sports celebrities.

Entertainers include double amputee Amy Purdy, who wowed "Dancing With the Stars" judges last year, finishing second to Olympic skater Meryl Davis.

The "Celebration of Will" gala, at $1,000 a ticket, already is sold out, but live auction items are open to online bidding at the website.

Essakow said Williams, one of the nonprofit's biggest supporters, always described his CAF appearances as "coming home to his family."

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