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California First Lady Maria Shriver Honors Outstanding Citizens at the First Annual Samantha's PRIDE Awards Luncheon; Hosted by Erin Runnion and The Joyful Child Foundation, Awards Celebrate Honorees Who Help Prevent Crimes Against Children.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The Joyful Child Foundation announced today the first annual Samantha's PRIDE Awards luncheon, featuring honored guest California First Lady Maria Shriver. Hosted by Erin Runnion and The Joyful Child Foundation, the luncheon will be held April 11 at the Fairmont Hotel in Newport Beach and will celebrate both private and public citizens who have worked to prevent violent crimes against children. Laura Diaz, Emmy Award-winning journalist and CBS 2 News co-anchor, will serve as master of ceremonies.

"I am honored and humbled that Maria Shriver has so graciously agreed to present our first-ever Samantha's PRIDE Awards," said Erin Runnion. "She is an inspiration to me, first as a journalist when she covered Samantha's case with compassion and integrity, and now as First Lady of California. Ms. Shriver's passion for acknowledging and celebrating the role of women and children in California has truly made her an architect of change. I have no doubt that her participation will inspire countless others to make a difference in the lives of our children and our communities."

"I am so thrilled to join The Joyful Child Foundation today to celebrate these extraordinary individuals who have helped to pave the way and make our California communities a safer place for our children," said First Lady Maria Shriver. "When I first learned of Samantha Runnion's tragedy, I was so saddened as a parent and mother for a family to have experienced the unimaginable. I have come to know Erin Runnion and I am in awe of her courage and strength to use her own voice to serve as an inspiration to create change."

Samantha's PRIDE Community Awareness and Child Watch is the first program of The Joyful Child Foundation, founded in memory of Samantha Runnion, who was abducted, assaulted and murdered by a pedophile in 2002. Today, hundreds of PRIDE Protector volunteers operate throughout Southern California, watching children as they walk to and from school, play in the neighborhood or gather in local parks. Their trademark red vests and neighborhood street signs are signals to children that safe adults are nearby, and also a warning to child predators that they do not stand a chance in these neighborhoods. A Web-based version of Samantha's PRIDE, created through a partnership with NeighborsConnecting.com, makes Samantha's PRIDE available across the nation.

Honorees include Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona; Irene Brown, director of California community relations for BP; Ray Baird, co-founder and president of RiechesBaird; California Attorney General Bill Lockyer; Frank and Michele Condon, president and vice president of NeighborsConnecting.com; and Fonda McGensy, Safe Place Coordinator for Safe House.

About The Joyful Child Foundation

The Joyful Child Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for public benefit organization dedicated to uniting and uplifting our nation's communities in the protection and wonderment of all children. The Joyful Child was inspired by the life of Samantha Runnion, a beautiful, bright, joyful little girl with a passion for art.

Samantha's life was cut short as the youngest victim of the summer of abductions in 2002. The Joyful Child focuses on proactive measures to deal with the difficult issue of violence against children. The Joyful Child Foundation launched Samantha's PRIDE Community Awareness and Child Watch program in 2004 to strengthen communities and protect children from predators. Today, more than 500 PRIDE Protectors participate in over 80 PRIDES throughout Southern California, effectively protecting thousands of children around their neighborhood schools and parks.

Since founding The Joyful Child Foundation in her daughter's memory, Erin Runnion works tirelessly to develop and promote programs that help prevent violent crimes against children. Erin is recognized as a leading advocate of community programs to protect children, and appears frequently on major media outlets, including NBC's Today, ABC's Good Morning America, CBS's Early Show and CNN's Larry King Live, to educate parents and communities about child protection issues.
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Date:Apr 5, 2006
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