- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

The National Building Museum proved a curious setting for Sunday's Oscar Night America bash.

The modest black-tie event, a fund-raiser for First Star, a nonprofit organization that supports laws protecting children, and the bipartisan Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, filled only a fraction of the building's cavernous space.

Still, the generous hearts of the 275 revelers many of whom have either adopted children or fight vigorously in their behalf could barely be contained by the museum's cavernous halls.

The Oscar Night America program, begun in 1994, allows local charities nationwide to tie into the Academy Awards spirit. Last year, the group's bashes in 37 cities raised more than $1.5 million. Sunday's $500-per-person event here raised $180,000.

The soiree singled out mother of three Rosie O'Donnell, most recently in the news for fighting Florida's ban on adoption of children by homosexuals, for her efforts on behalf of adoption issues.

Miss O'Donnell, in the midst of a whirlwind publicity tour for her new autobiography, "Find Me," was a no-show for her Angels in Adoption Award. Instead, she appeared via videotape in a brief segment taped on her talk-show set.

Others were present to pick up the Bright Futures for Children Award, including Howard University professor emeritus Clarice Dibble Walker, Rep. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, and Rep. Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts Democrat.

The evening didn't want for entertainment, despite Miss O'Donnell's absence. Grammy-winning songstress Regina Belle, herself a mother of three adopted children, serenaded the crowd. The Suzuki Youth Violinists, a group of 4- to 17-year-olds, produced the pre-dinner reception's soundtrack, a wonderous score that belied the musicians' young ages.

Among those delighting in the youngsters' music were the evening's hostess, Miss USA 2000 Lynnette Cole (who was adopted); First Star director and movie producer (1999s "Arlington Road") Peter Samuelson; Sens. Larry E. Craig and Mary L. Landrieu; Rep. James L. Oberstar; and actress Beatrice Bush (2000's "The Patriot").

The Oscar theme carried the night, though politicians queried playfully refused to name any favorites for the evening's top honors. Some confessed they hadn't seen many of the nominated films, blaming chockablock schedules.

On the subject of adoption, however, each spoke volumes of its far-ranging benefits.

During the event's casual pre-dinner gathering, Mr. Delahunt lauded the social changes surrounding the adoption process.

In the past, "there was reticence for acknowledging a child was adopted," said Mr. Delahunt, who attended the gala with his Vietnamese daughter, Kara Delahunt. "It's much more open now and accepted.

"There's no more goodness," he added, "than the bringing together of adoptive parents and the adoptees."

Virginia Williams, adoptive mother of District Mayor Anthony A. Williams, said, "Every adopted person should adopt a child. There is no stigma that should be attached to it."

Mr. Craig, one of the Congressional Coalition's founders, listened to the heartfelt appeals for adoption causes while awaiting the Oscar results, telecast on an immense screen above the podium.

Mr. Craig openly rooted for "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" to bring home a few golden statuettes.

Beyond J.R.R. Tolkien, he had little enthusiasm for the tony Oscar affair.

"Hollywood and I are very far apart," the conservative Idaho Republican said with a smile.

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