Crystal Charity Ball Committee Husbands Are Feted With A Picnic

While the harvest moon was a shade slimmer, the season’s earliest cold front had dropped temperatures from the low 90s to the lows 70s on Wednesday, October 11.

Caren and Pete Kline

And in Preston Hollow, it was dreamy at Caren and Pete Kline’s estate for the Crystal Charity Ball’s picnic salute to the committee member husbands. There was no check-in at the front door. Instead guests like Tanya and Pete Foster, Leslie and Bryan Diers, Lisa and Clay Cooley, Vinnie and Malcolm Reuben, Janelle Walker and Patty and Mark Leyendecker left their cars, like Rich Enthoven’s snazzy blue vintage Corvette, in the circular driveway and took the brick pathway to the backyard with its covered terrace adorned with buffet, the pool, bars along the wall and candle-lit lanterns.

It was a bravo project for the Klines. Just a month before, Caren’s 91-year-old father, Robert Whiteman, had died.

Michael and Shelle Sills and Malcolm Reuben

In one part of the grounds, Shelle Sills reported that after supporting Michal Powell’s chairing The Salvation Army’s “Doing The Most Good Luncheon” on Thursday, November 16, she would be the underwriting chair for the 2018 Celebrating Women Luncheon.

Husband Michael Sills was concerned over the fires blazing in California. While his favorite vineyards were pretty safe from the fires, he indicated that until the final flicker was out, the state’s economic health was still to be determined.

Speaking of California, Neiman’s NorthPark GM/VP Malcolm Reuben told friends that the day after Christmas, he and wife Vinnie Reuben were starting his retirement by heading to California.

Chris Branscun and Mary Clare Finney

Mary Clare Finney reported that she was redecorating her two Park Cities homes. While she claimed that she initially had planned to redo only two rooms in one of the houses, she hinted that Chris Branscun had been the one who encouraged her to expand her plans to include the entire place. Chris protested that he shouldn’t be blamed for the bigger picture.

And speaking of re-doing, 2017 CCB Chair Pam Perella has already started planning for post-CCB life. Taking a couple of months off following the Saturday, December 2nd fundraiser at the Anatole, she’ll start the redecoration of the Perella homestead. But Pam added that the year had flown by and she had loved it.

Rob Bowlby

At 7:45 p.m. BB&T North Texas Region President Rob Bowlby addressed the group. Unlike previous event sponsors, like Comerica’s Ralph Babb’s simply congratulating CCB for their efforts, Rob with notes in hand told of the company’s involvement in the area and thanking CCB ladies.

Richard Dix and Claire Emanuelson

But as the sun set, so did the lighting. One guest, upon being greeted by “a friend” and told she looked terrific, admitted that she couldn’t see who had given her the hug and good words.

Still another guest giggled, “The lighting is perfect. It makes the wrinkles disappear.”

Claire Emanuelson in stilettos and Richard Dix in tie admitted this was not their normal picnic garb. Due to previous commitments, they had to go high-brow.

Attorneys Serving The Community’s 31st Annual Luncheon Scored A Summer Hit With Junior Players And “Hamilton”‘s Christopher Jackson

Inside the Hilton Anatole’s Carpenter Ballroom, organizers and VIP guests were starting to arrive before 11 a.m. on Friday, June 23. Even the most “been-there, done-that” boldfacer had a look of anticipation. In an adjacent room, fewer than a handful of chairs were set up for an interview with the keynote speaker for the Attorneys Serving the Community’s 31st Annual Luncheon benefiting Junior Players.

KERA reporter Hady Mawajdeh had all his equipment set up as Tony Award-nominated and Grammy Award-winning Christopher Jackson arrived. It was obvious from his height and demeanor why he had scored a Tony nomination for his portrayal of George Washington in “Hamilton.” As Chris settled back in the chair, he proved even more so with his articulate responses to Hady’s questions. Highlights included:

Christopher Jackson and Hady Mawajdeh

  • Junior Players — “They (children) have the distinct perspective of seeing the world as it should be perhaps and as is. Who better to hold up that mirror than the children, especially organizations like the Junior Players, where you’ve got kids from all over the economic spectrum and who are learning what it means to communicate with and express themselves? It’s an organization that can provide a palette for that. There is no higher pursuit in our society than giving kids the opportunity to experience something like that.”
  • The first role —“I grew up with middle-child syndrome. So, acting was pretty much my only way to garner any kind of attention in the house… I participated in every Sunday service every week. So getting up in front of people was never really something I had a hard time with. Pretty much I was the ham. [Laughter]”
  • Career — “A career in the arts is not for everyone. But I would say that 90% of what I get to do is to have fun with my friends. Who doesn’t want to do that for a living? But the same could be said about someone who works in social sciences or teachers or engineers or astronomers. Once you find that passion and a way to it, that’s it right there… For me, it’s as much the pursuit of what I don’t know as it is seeing the finished product on the show or in the song.”
  • Hip Hop — “Hip Hop rap is probably the best form of modern-day storytelling and maybe the latest great, pure American art form… But it depends on what part of the country you come from. Hip hop is very regionalized and that happened very, very quickly toward the end of the ’90s, where every market, every group wanted to have their own sound and created their own sound. The same could be said for rock; the same could be said for gospel music. It’s a testament to how big our country is. And it’s a testament to the different kinds of cultures within our society and there’s room for all of that.”
  • Hamilton — “You’d be amazed how many people have come up to me said, ‘I’m a little nervous about the rap.’ But it’s much like Shakespeare. If you’ve ever seen a Shakespeare play, the first five minutes you have no idea of what’s going on. You don’t know what anybody is saying. You’re not accustomed to people speaking in iambic pentameter. And yet in that first five minutes your ear gets attuned to it and off you go.”
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda — “Lin has been regarded as a modern-day Shakespeare in the way he uses verse to communicate the story and I honestly believe that it certainly descends from that.”
  • Sesame Street — “The idea of writing for ‘Sesame Street’ was a dream come true.”

Peter Altabef, Kara Altenbaumer-Price, Christopher Jackson, Jennifer Altabef, Rosaura Cruz Webb and Beth Bedell

Christopher Jackson and Kathleen LaValle

Michael Holmes, Sophia Holmes and Cathleen Holmes

With that the interview ended at 11:10 a.m., as one of the organizers said, “He’s got a long line out there.” They were speaking of the people lined up along the Carpenter Ballroom wall for the meet-and-greet. Without hesitation, Chris posed for a photo with Hady and headed straight to the sponsor backdrop. Chris accommodated one and all including Co-Chairs Beth Bedell and Kara Altenbaumer-Price, Honorary Co-Chairs Jennifer and Peter Altabef, Junior Players Executive Director Rosaura Cruz Webb, and Kathleen LaValle with autographs, cellphone snaps and chats. Ten-year-old Sophia Holmes’ twin sister, Addison Holmes, couldn’t attend, but Sophia had brought along a “Hamilton” book for Chris to sign. After seeing, “Hamilton” in NYC, Sophia fessed up that Chris’ George Washington was her favorite character.

At 11:30 the doors to the Grand Ballroom opened for nearly 1,000 guests including Ellen Magnis, Joanna Clark, Angie Kadesky. Shelly Slater arrived to be prepped for the onstage chat. Had she met him? No, but she had seen him on YouTube.

The Junior Players arrived and approached the production platform rapping, “Hamilton.”

Jeremy Coca in vest surrounded by Junior Players

, who had been in the first Junior Players musical production three years before when he was attending Booker T. Washington, reported that he had seen Chris in “The Heights.”

Rosaura Cruz-Webb told how the night before, when they were setting up for the luncheon, Chris had come down from his room and chatted and charmed them all.

As the guests started to take their seats, Junior Players one at a time popped up throughout the room performing. Seamlessly, they grabbed everyone’s attention that the program was underway. Chris watched with a smile of admiration at the young performers pulling off a perfect launch for the day’s affair.

At 12:06 Shelly welcomed the group and introduced Kara, who was joined by Beth in presenting the ASC Friend of the Community Award to the Hilton Anatole Senior Catering Sales Manager Catherine New, who has orchestrated many of the area’s major fundraisers.

Beth Bedell, Catherine New and Kara Altenbaumer-Price

Following Rosaura’s telling how Junior Players had turned around her life as a young person, a video was shown with the audio ramped up and the house lights so dim that one guest had to use her cellphone flashlight to find her way out of the ballroom.

Lisette Sandoval

As the video ended, a young woman who had been seated at the far end of the head table took her place at the podium. Her name was Lisette Sandoval and she told how it hadn’t been that long ago that she had felt her destiny was to get pregnant by 15 and drop out of school. Instead her brother directed her to Junior Players, where her life took a different road. Lisette admitted that at one point suicide had been an option. What dashed that thought was news that she had been picked for the cast of “Taming of the Shrew.” She is now going to college on a scholarship.

Lisette was followed by Honorary Co-Chair Peter Altabef and a video of Renee Elise Goldsberry, who had originally been slated to be the keynote speaker. When she had to pull out due to scheduling, Renee arranged for Chris to sub in.

Chris started off by admitting, “Good afternoon, my name is Christopher Jackson and I am not a lawyer. I don’t even play one on TV. I don’t know any lawyer jokes. None of that would surprise or astound you…. I am an artist. A profession that is historically a few rungs lower than a garbage collector, but if all the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players, I beg your patience and indulgence today. I want to sincerely thank ASC for having me here today. Thank you very much. The fact that I have been sweating since I sat down here might be an indication that I am more than a little intimidated being in a room full of people who are clearly smarter than I am.”

Using his own journey from his childhood in Cairo, Illinois, he told of the turning point in his childhood when a teacher handed him a text from “The Crucible,” and invited him to join the speech team. “I don’t what it was that made me said yes, except that perhaps I was so desperate to distinguish myself in some way or the other. I quickly realized that this acting thing was different. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t concerned with what didn’t work. I wasn’t consumed with what I didn’t have. I began to see the world from a character’s perspective and that helped me to develop my own perspective. It was terrifying and exhilarating and it changed my life forever.”

At the age of 17, he moved to New York City to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. In 1997, he was hired to be the understudy for Simba in “The Lion King,” just an hour before the first rehearsal.   

He claimed that if it hadn’t been for that “key”—when he received “The Crucible”—he’d probably be selling caskets in Cairo. Chris was serious. “True story. My family owns a funeral home.”

Chris then praised and encouraged support for the Junior Players for their 55 years of providing a key for thousands and thousands of children “to emerge from utter darkness and seeing an entire galaxy.”

Christopher Jackson

Leaving the podium, he was joined in chairs on stage with Shelly to discuss

  • Getting the role of George Washington — “Lin allowed his imagination to run wild and he saw these characters (in “Hamilton”) in a different way. Lin is one of my best friends in the whole world. I knew very early on that he was on to something because I thought he was crazy. The story is that we were doing a performance of ‘In the Heights,’ and during one of the numbers… he had just come back from vacation and he kinda looked over at me and said, ‘Got the next thing.’ Okay, great! I said, ‘What is it?’ (He said,) ‘It’s about the treasury secretary.’ A few days later, our director Tommy Kail approached me and said, G-dubs!’ I asked, ‘What does that mean?’ ‘George Washington… GW’ I thought, ‘Oh, great! We have shorthand. What does that mean?’ He said I was going to be George Washington. I said, ‘Great! I don’t know anything about George Washington. ‘
  • “Hamilton”’s first preview — “’Hamilton literally began at the White House. Lin was asked to perform a song about the American experience at the Evening of Poetry, Music and Spoken Word. This was in 2009 and he didn’t want to do something from ‘In the Heights.” He was just getting an idea of what ‘Hamilton’ was going to be, so he wrote what would become our opening number and he performed it. Everybody including President Obama looked at him like, ‘What is wrong with him?’”
  • Bro-hug with the President — It was years later when the cast of “Hamilton” was invited to perform at the White House that following the performance, President Obama gave Christopher a “bro hug.” As Christopher recalled, “Moments like that aren’t supposed to happen to a young boy from Cairo. My grandmother, who marched and was a union organizer and civil rights organizer and a black entrepreneur when it was definitely hard to be that in the South, raised me to understand that nothing was impossible… Always be aware of limitations so you can know how to get past them. She raised me to that moment, but she didn’t dream that moment for me.”
  • As a parent — “I’m really at the point where I’m trying to get my kids to pick their shoes up. I’m trying to get them to handle some light chores. I mean, I don’t want them to live like ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ but they can take the trash once in a while and wash their hair. My kids are Neanderthals. I can’t show them how to feel…but I can show them about justice. And I can teach them about inequality and equality. And I can teach them about respect — all the things that I was given and we were all given when it comes to just wake up in the morning, put your shoes, look people in the eye, be honest, look out for someone who has less than you, take up for the kid who is being bullied, stand up for the weaker one of us. It is all of those principles that I was given and try to live by….”

While summer heat may shoo locals to cooler places, the ASC’s 31st Annual luncheon made staying in North Texas seem like the coolest place in the world, thanks to Chris and the Junior Players.

Dallas Zoo Residents Are Ready For A Herd Of Visitors For Thursday’s Dollar Day! Special

The Dallas Zoo folks snuck up on a lot of folks. Instead of waiting until August scorches the area, they’re holding the infamous Dollar Day! this Thursday. That’s a $14 saving for adults and a $11 saving for youths and seniors.

Not only is admission going to be a dollar, but the following will be available for a buck each:

  • selected snack items (canned drinks, water, hot dogs and chips)
  • nectar to feed the lorikeets
  • bird food at the Travis and Zach’s Birds Landing

Giraffe (File photo)

And if you want to splurge and look like a big spender, here are some other bargains for this one-day-only special:

  • $2 T-Rex Express mini-train
  • $5 Wilds of Africa Adventure Safari monorail
  • $5 giraffe feedings (and, yes, the giraffes do have long black tongues)

Since parking is going to be $8 and traffic is expected to be limited, try out the DART Red Line.

Hippopotamus (File photo)

BTW, prepare yourself for the Simmons Hippo Outpost. These two are more fun than a barrel full of monkeys.

BTW, don’t forget the sunscreen, sunglasses and cameras.

Children’s Donor Reception Was Prepared For A Cowboys-Packers Showdown With A Flatscreen In The Dallas Country Club Ballroom

Sundays are usually sorta ho-hum. There are church services and brunches, but otherwise it’s rather calm. And on Sunday, January 15, it should have been especially so, since it was the Martin Luther King Jr. three-day weekend.

That’s why “the Christophers” (Children’s Health President/CEO Chris Durovich and Children’s Medical Center Foundation President Brent Christopher) figured it would be ideal for the 2nd Annual Thank You Donors reception at the Dallas Country Club.

What wasn’t predicted was Cowboys wunderkind rookies Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott. Thanks to the Cowboys making it to the NFL playoff and the game being played at AT&T Stadium starting at 4 p.m., the snoozy Sunday was no longer so sleepy.

Then there was the Liener Temerlin’s memorial service at Temple Emanu-El’s Stern Chapel at 3 p.m.

Chris and Christina Durovich

This Sunday was truly going into uber drive.

But then, of course, Mother Nature had to add her two cents with rain.

Luckily, Chris and Brent were prepared for the situation. As Brent chatted in the lobby area, Chris and Christina Durovich officially welcomed guests and let them know that a TV was broadcasting the Cowboys-Packers game at the back of the ballroom just past all the tables filled with goodies.

Randy Muck, Carol Bieler and Brent Christopher

When one guest asked Brent, Carol Bieler and Randy Muck about the Cowboys game, Randy quickly corrected the guest saying it was a “Packers game.” Bow-tied Brent smiled, “Randy’s a Packer’s fan.”

Among the early arrivals were new Communities Foundation of Texas President/CEO David Scullin with his wife Susan Scullin, Fran and Bill Carter and Caroline Rose Hunt with Bob Brackbill. Katy and Ken Menges arrived reporting the latest score as they checked in. Katy will be having hip surgery and is glad to have it over with. Annette Leslie sans 25 pounds reported that the Carson Leslie Foundation had ramped up with greater structure.

David and Susan Scullin and Fran and Bill Carter

Katy and Ken Menges

Bob Brackhill and Caroline Rose Hunt

Magda and Dr. Halim Hennes told former Children’s Medical Center Foundation President Kern Wildenthal that the Children’s ER was on its way to being open. 

Kern Wildenthal and Magda and Halim Hennes

Kern had been an honorary pallbearer at Liener’s services, which were simply flawless with three generations of Temerlins recalling “Papa.” Despite the eloquence of daughter Lisa Temerlin Gottesman and grandson Blake Gottesman, it was great-granddaughter Avery Johl’s telling the story of “The Invisible String” with Rabbi David Stern that was the true memory maker.

In attendance at the service were Gail and Gerald Turner, Marnie Wildenthal, Martha Tiller (sans husband David Tiller, who was preparing for back surgery), Nancy Dedman, Nancy Halbreich, Barbara and Stan Levenson, Melina McKinnon and Michael Cain and Wick Allison.

But back to the Children’s reception. As the party closed down with a hair-pulling end to the Cowboys-Packers game, Ma Nature took over the spotlight with tornado warnings and severe thunderstorms. While disappointed Cowboy fans found themselves holed up at AT&T stadium, the Children’s guests were safe at home.

2016 Crystal Charity Ball Chair Christie Carter Thanks Her Team With A Happy Hour

It was a farewell to embracing arms. The occasions was 2016 Crystal Charity Ball Chair Christie Carter‘s “happy hour” at the Dallas Country Club on Thursday, December 5, in the Founders Room. From the hugs around the room, one would have thought it was a big, old thank you party and that’s exactly what it was.

Steve Walthall, Cindy Ethel, Christie Carter and Eric Jez

Christie was hosting the event to thank her committee, the CCB staff (Cindy Ethel, Jennifer Hinze and Bevin Shaw), event producer Tom Addis, Garden Gate chieftan Junior Villanueva, public relations specialist Terry Van Willson and the security chiefs (Steve Walthall and Eric Jez) with Tommy De Salvo at the baby grand.

Melissa Macatee

Tommy DeSalvo

Margo Goodwin, Pam McCallum and Pam Perella

In turn everyone including 2017 CCB Chair Pam Perella and 2018 Chair Claire Emanuelson were showing their appreciation for Christie’s leadership through the past 12 months to haul in $5.6M+ for Community Partners of Dallas, Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, Hope Supply Co., Notre Dame School of Dallas, Parkland Foundation on behalf of Parkland Health and Hospital System, Teach for America, The Family Place and Crystal Charity Ball Educational Scholarship Project.

For more photos, check out the MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.

MySweetCharity Photo Gallery Alert: 2016 Crystal Charity Ball Happy Hour

After taking a couple weeks to tidy up all the party decorations and making sure all the silent auction items were on their way to their new homes, the Crystal Charity Ball crew was hosted to a happy hour by the 2016 CCB Chair Christie Carter in the Founders Room at the Dallas Country Club.

Steve Walthall, Cindy Ethel, Christie Carter and Eric Jez

From security types like Steve Walthall and Eric Jez, pianist Tommy DeSalvo and event producer Tom Addis to the past and future CCB Chairs office team like Cindy Ethel, Jennifer Hinze and Bevin Shaw, they all turned out on Thursday, December 15, to celebrate their meeting their goal of $5.6M+ for Community Partners of Dallas, Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, Hope Supply Co., Notre Dame School of Dallas, Parkland Foundation on behalf of Parkland Health and Hospital System, Teach for America, The Family Place and Crystal Charity Ball Educational Scholarship Project.

Vinnie Reuben and Tom Addis

Tommy DeSalvo

While the post is being prepped, some of the happy and relieved faces are at MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.

After ‘Filling In’ 38 Years Ago, Cathy McCormack Maher Will Retire December 31 as Dallas Bar Association’s Executive Director

Back in the 1970s, the Idlewild debutante season dominated the Dallas social scene from October through January. Nonprofit fundraising was scarce because of the mega-storm of debutante teas, brunches, dinners, cocktail parties and balls.

And while some people might think that the young gals in white ball gowns simply evolved into socialites who spent their afternoons at country clubs and managing their household staffs, they would be short-shrifting many, like Chris Jonsson, Laura Bayoud Hunt, Linda Perryman Evans, Missy Gunn Falchi and others.

Cathy Maher*

One of those former debs will be retiring after working at the Dallas Bar Association for 38 years. Come Saturday, December 31, DBA Executive Director Cathy McCormack Maher will have cleaned out her desk and headed to retirement.

Not a bad career when you realize she joined the DBA in 1978 to fill in for a staff member who was on maternity leave.

When Cathy notified the DBA back in September 2015 of her plans to retire, DBA President Jerry Alexander admitted in the Bar’s newsletter, “Part of the process of hiring a new Executive Director of the Dallas Bar Association (you note I didn’t say ‘replacing Cathy Maher,’ because she is irreplaceable) is coming up with a job description.”

Jerry then had Cathy compile The Book, in which she would describe in minute detail the executive director’s daily responsibilities. He thought he would simply incorporate the information in the job description, but it turned out to be such an epic piece that he decided that during the interview process, the candidates would be able to see The Book and be asked a very simple question: “Do you think you can do all of this?”

After a national search, they found the candidate who answered “Yes” in Alicia Hernandez, who has worked for the association for 15 years.

Known to old friends as “Mac,” Cathy admits that she’s proud of having helped lead the $14M fundraising campaign that resulted in the building of the Belo Mansion’s Pavilion, where countless events are held. She has also instituted various programs that resulted in “the organization having twice received recognition from the American Bar Association for outstanding diversity initiatives such as the Dallas Minority Attorney Program, the Minority Attorney Business Development Initiative and the Minority Participation Committee.”

For her efforts, she received the Dallas Minority Attorney Program’s Legacy Award this past April.

When asked by Attorney at Law Magazine why she decided to retire, Mac said, “As you can imagine, I am very close to the Dallas Bar Association. It has been my life since I was 26 years old. But at some point, you know it is time to pass the torch. We have great bar leaders and staff, and the Bar is in excellent shape. The board has appointed Alicia Hernandez as the new executive director beginning January 1. Now is the time to get out and smell the roses. But, my heart will always be with the Dallas Bar Association — the best bar association in the country.”

And what does that smelling of roses include? According to Mac, she’s going to take some time off and then she’ll “be working on a biography of Colonel Belo with former Dallas Morning News historian Judith Segura.”

So, next time you hear somebody scoffing about debutantes, think about Cathy, who was just filling in back in 1978.

* Photo provided by Cathy Maher

A Lesson In Appreciation Made The Grade At Herbert Marcus Elementary School With Cookies, Pajamas And Paper

As adorable cuties and oldies sent wishes to Santa for Barbies, Birkin handbags, Anki Cozmo robots and DJI Phantom 4 Drones,  there were others whose want was much less.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, December 21, the Neiman Marcus marketing and public relations types like Mimi Sterling, Ginger Reeder, Sandy Marple, Wendy Segal, Kristin Fletcher and others set up homemade and Celebrity Bakery Christmas cookies that were pound gainers at first glance.

Holly Wallace, Kevin Hurst and Ginger Reeder

But the scene was not at some fancy-shmancy mansion in Preston Hollow or even in an NM couture salon. It was at Herbert Marcus Elementary School in northwest Dallas as a result of NM Director of Charitable Giving Kevin Hurst saying “Howdy do” to the school’s new Principal Holly Wallace earlier in the year. It made sense, since the school was the namesake of NM co-founder Herbert Marcus.

As parents escorted students and their school projects to their cars and crossing guards shielded students from afternoon traffic, the faculty gathered in the school library.

While it may have appeared to be an alcohol-fueled happy hour, not a drop of liquor was present. As today was pajama day for the staff, the teachers in footed jammies were the guests of honor for NM’s “Teacher Appreciation Party.” Thanks to a DJ in the back of the room and a sugar high, the usually quiet-as-a-mouse library had become a party room with laughter and smiles.

Midway through the celebration, Holly surprised all with the announcement that the school had been selected as one of four schools for the Momentous Institute’s program. Instead of just a few of the teachers attending the program, the entire group would participate. The news was greeted by the teachers with the delight usually only seen when a youngster’s can’t-possibly-happen Christmas wish is granted. Holly admitted that she had been on her phone all day locking down the details, so she could break the news at the party.   

Herbert Marcus Elementary School and Neiman Marcus staffs

In addition to the cookies and partying, Holly reported that the NM crew had also provided individual gifts for each of the faculty members.

And then, as if in passing, Holly pointed to a half wall of white innocuous boxes in one part of the room. With the NM team standing on the side, Holly announced that each box contained reams of paper and that each teacher would receive a box for his/her classroom.

The room exploded in excitement as the teachers cheered in delight, throwing their arms up in appreciation. The joy and surprise were so great and genuine that it amazed the NM-ers.

So, while others celebrated receiving high-tech toys, flat-screen TVs and luxury handbags and dining at world-class restaurants, an elementary school’s faculty was over-the-top for an afternoon of appreciation and boxes of plain paper.

MySweetMusic For Christmas – Part 6

You’re winding down from the food and festivities. But the Christmas aftermath is starting to sink in. There are those thank you notes and those … ugh, returns for the right size.

But give yourself a break. The dirty dishes and demolished gift wrap can wait. You deserve to settle back, turn off the TV, close your eyes and enjoy the music of the season that inspires people to pass-it-forward.

BTW, MSC elf twins Cherry T. and Jerry T. are heading for their trundle beds after 30 hours of DJ-ing. Not to worry. Queenie made sure that their stockings hanging from the MSC mantle are filled with all types of goodies.

We hope that your Christmas was filled with blessings and the knowledge that you’re so very important to the entire MSC community.

EducationalFirstSteps Pays It Forward To Momentous Institute Thanks To An Anonymous Santa

While a heck of a lot of folks have already headed out for the holidays or have taken extended lunch breaks to shop, the Momentous Institute team has been hard at work at their office. Imagine their surprise Monday when “two people wearing Santa Hats, only identifying themselves as ‘mystery guests,’ dropped by” with an envelope.

And it didn’t contain a Christmas card. Nope.

Note from anonymous Santa*

Inside was a note and a letter from the “Mystery Friend” that explained, “You should know this gift was made possible by your friends at EducationalFirstSteps. In the spirit of giving and paying it forward, I recently asked them to name another local agency whose work they admired — and they selected yours!”

Patty Pickard and Jessica Slie Trudeau*

Along with the note was a check for $10,000, much to the amazement of Momentous Institute Senior Director of Finance Patty Pickard and Senior Director of Development Strategic Partnership Jessica Slie Trudeau.

In other words, an anonymous Santa allowed one nonprofit play Santa by helping another nonprofit.

* Photos provided by 
Momentous Institute

The Trinity Trust Friends And Fans Gather To Toast Annette Simmons’ $50M Gift For Trinity River Park Launch

It’s not every day that a city gets a $50M gift. But then every city doesn’t have Annette Simmons! To celebrate the announcement of Annette’s gift to commemorate her late husband Harold Simmons and to get things hustling for the creation of the Trinity River Park, city officials and longtime Trinity Trust staffers and friends gathered on Wednesday, November 9, to toast the news at Saint Rocco’s New York Italian. Here’s a report from the field:

On November 9, The Trinity Trust gathered its supporters to celebrate Annette Simmons’ $50 million historic gift to the Trinity River Park with a “Toast to the Trinity.” Taking place on the rooftop of Saint Rocco’s New York Italian restaurant overlooking the Dallas skyline and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, this location was also where Mayor Mike Rawlings announced the gift in honor of Annette’s late husband, Harold Simmons, just the previous week.

Trinity River Park illustrations*

The gift will launch development and construction of the first phase of Trinity River Park that encompasses more than 285 acres of land near downtown Dallas. With approval from the City Council, the park will be named the Harold Simmons Park, which will stretch from the Ron Kirk Pedestrian Bridge to the Margaret McDermott Bridge or about 200 of the 285 acres.

The Trinity Trust Rat Pack and River Rats and guests sipped wine and beer and noshed on Italian appetizers and watched the sun set. As the sun went down, the remarks began. The Trinity Trust President Gail Thomas said, “This is such as moment. As we crossed the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, I remember Jane Jacobs saying that as the sun is setting and shines on the glass buildings, the reflection puts her in her high heart. This gift has been a dream come true. Thank you to the Simmons family for believing in this project.”

Craig Holcomb and Monica Alonzo*

Joe Crafton and Amy Simmons Crafton*

Deputy Mayor Monica Alonzo, whose district includes the park area, welcomed everyone to her district and shared in the excitement of the news.

Representing the family, Amy Simmons Crafton said, “This park is something my dad would have been proud to do. Someday, this will be an incredible park. We’re proud to be associated with the park. We’re ready to hike and bike in it.”

Nancy Cain Marcus and Nelda Cain Pickens*

Garrett Boone and Lucy Hale*

Electra Harelson, Tori Mannes, Stewart Thomas and Gail Thomas*

Those in attendance included Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez, Dallas Assistant City Manager Mark McDaniel and his wife Cindy; The Trinity Trust Board Members Garrett Boone and Nancy Cain Marcus; Nelda Cain Pickens, Lynlee and Dave Forehand; new Trinity River Audubon Center Director Lucy Hale; Trinity Commons Foundation’s Craig Holcomb; Gail Thomas’ three children: Stewart Thomas, Tori Mannes and Electra Harelson, their spouses and some of their children.

* Photo credit: Jerry McClure

Gratitude Has Been The Main Dish Over The Centuries On Thanksgiving Day

The tradition of Thanksgiving began in 1621 when two groups from different backgrounds (the Wampanoag Indians and the Plymouth pilgrims) came together to break bread. Any school child can tell how the Indians had literally helped the newcomers survive the challenges of the new frontier.

Robbie and Nancy Briggs (File photo)

Robbie and Nancy Briggs (File photo)

The colonists created the meal with “fowl” to show their gratitude to the Indians for helping them settle in this foreign land. In turn, the native Americans brought five deer to add to the meal. Due to a lack of microwaves and Wolf ovens, there were no pumpkin pies.

Today is such a day when people of different backgrounds come together. It’s people like Nancy and Robbie Briggs, who will be serving meals to the homeless. It’s an occasion when most will have their eyes on the annual Thanksgiving Parade and/or The Boys and the Redskins. It’s the morning that loads of folks will hit the stores as early as possible for bargains. It’s, unfortunately, for far too many calling a car “home.” 

May your blessings be many and shared with all you know and need to know.

Crystal Charity Ball Men Folk Were Honored With A Gentlemen’s Night Out At The Rathbuns Thanks to BB&T

Like a Tennessee Williams scenario, Tuesday, October 18, was warm and steamy. Luckily, the Crystal Charity Ball types were well aware of the condition and left the cashmeres and leathers at home for the Gentlemen’s Night Out.

It was to thank the CCB husbands for playing second fiddle, while their wives called on foundations and CEOs to provide $5.6M for children charities.

Kent Rathbun and Claire Emanuelson

Kent Rathbun and Claire Emanuelson

Key Coker and Debbie Oates

Key Coker and Debbie Oates

Presented by BB&T Bank, the event took place at Tracy and Kent Rathbun’s home. Because of the limited parking, most guests parked at the Junior League of Dallas and were bused over to the Rathbuns. Others had friends or Uber deliver them to the front door. Nicky Oates dropped off wife Debbie Oates and Marie Dean depended upon a walker for her mending left foot.

Bryan and Leslie Diers and Dwight Emanuelson

Bryan and Leslie Diers and Dwight Emanuelson

Dwight Emanuelson was back in town from a couple of weeks on the East Coast. In addition to company gatherings, Dwight headed to Hilton Head to help his dad with post-Hurricane Matthew damages. After a couple of days and hand blisters, dad’s home was soon back to normal. The remaining problems for the seaside house was the damage to the dunes that separated his dad’s pool from the ocean.

Troy Schiermeyer, Christie Carter and Sarah and Rob Bowlby

Troy Schiermeyer, Christie Carter and Sarah and Rob Bowlby

Since the Rathbun home is a true-blue indoor/outdoor party palace, the ladies were all gussied up in silk and lace attire especially as presenting sponsor rep BB&T’s newly minted North Texas Region President Rob Bowlby addressed the group about BB&T’s capability. As if moving the Bowlby family to Dallas from Florida wasn’t taxing enough, Rob’s wife, Sarah Bowlby, had just given birth six weeks before. But there she was, looking great.

Rob admitted that he was indeed impressed with the philanthropic efforts of North Texas. Why, just the previous Saturday he had seen Kent on stage raising funds for cancer research. Now, Kent was hosting another fundraiser.

JUST IN: Annette Simmons Donates $50M For The Creation Of The 155-Acre Harold Simmons Park

Harold and Annette Simmons (File photo)

Harold and Annette Simmons (File photo)

The late Harold Simmons was a philanthropist who loved Dallas and the outdoors. It is with this in mind that his widow, Annette Simmons, made a $50M donation to create the Harold Simmons Park along the Trinity River.

The 155-acre park will extend from the Margaret McDermott Bridge to the Ronald Kirk Bridge.

According to the POA, the initial $10M will be expended by the (Trinity) Trust “for the purposes of planning, designing, promoting and construction the Park.” If all things go as planned, the remaining $40M will be used for governance, management and operations of the park.

You Did It Again: North Texas Giving Day Busts Previous Records With A Whopping $37,307,196 For 2,518 Nonprofits Thanks To 142,892 Gifts

Well, dang it! Once again Communities Foundation of TexasNorth Texas Giving Day broke all past records hauling in $37,307,196. Gee, don’t you just love the 142,892 North Texas givers who made it happen? Whether its multi-million-dollar buckeroos or the legions of $25 donors, this neighborhood shines in the world of giving.

North Texas Giving Day

North Texas Giving Day

You simply can’t even fathom the appreciation of the nonprofits for folks and organizations coming through on this legendary day.

By the way, this year’s record breaker is the very first in its eight-year history without former CFT Executive Director Brent Christopher, who announced his departure for Children’s Medical Center Foundation earlier this summer.

For a giggle, MySweetCharity contacted Brent about NTGD’s continuing its record-breaking record in the astrosphere of fundraising without him. His reply:

“The team behind North Texas Giving Day is incredible, not to mention all the participating nonprofits. But, I had no idea that I was holding everyone back all these years! This over-the-top total is nothing short of astounding. And, of course, all of us at Children’s Health are thrilled that donors to Children’s played a big part in that success, too.”

Congrats to Communities Foundation of Texas, the 2,518 nonprofits and Brent for creating one of the nation’s most remarkable fundraising accomplishments.

May the fundraising continue. But let’s let the emailboxes take a rest for a day.

4th Annual Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center’s Back-To-School Achieved Its Goal And Then Some

If you’ve been worrying whether the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center’s 4th Annual Back-to-School campaign would meet its goal of providing 1,000 kids-in-need with uniforms for school, rest easy. Not only was the goal met, it was “over met” with a whopping 1,016 kids not only getting two uniforms but also backpacks thanks to City Electric Supply.

Dallas Children's Advocacy Center's Back To School*

Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center’s Back To School*

In other words, $25,400 was provided by 243 generous donors to make this happen. While the kids may never know those 243, they also won’t know embarrassment at not having the bare necessities for school.

Here is a “note of reflection” from one of DCAC’s evening childcare workers who experienced the moment of providing:

“I started working at DCAC when we were located on Swiss Avenue and have been at DCAC for nearly 5 years. I have witnessed, been involved in, and have enjoyed many moving moments here at DCAC. Last week, as I watched our clients and families pick up their backpacks, school supplies and uniforms, I was touched by the smiles, joy, thanks and appreciation expressed by the clients and their families. After we closed last Thursday, a little after 8:00 PM, I sat back and reflected over the four days I had witnessed. Once again I saw what we, with support from the community, can do for our children. I am so proud to be a small part of what we do. The children smiled and showed me their backpacks and many parents shook my hand and thanked DCAC. I told them that the thanks goes to the DCAC staff, volunteers, and especially to our donors.”

* Graphic provided by Dallas Children's Advocacy Center

Children’s Medical Center Foundation Provides Stories About The Family Hero

Children's notice

Children’s notice*

At a time when heroes seem to be needed more than ever,  this upcoming Father’s Day couldn’t come at a better time.

Okay, let’s be very honest. Not all fathers represent the ideal paternal figure. Too often headlines report cases of abuse and neglect by men, who should be on the frontline for the children in their care.

That is why this Sunday is so important to give credit and a pat-on-the-back for the men who nurture and serve as positive role models for kids. Sure, at times these fellas seem to be preoccupied with work and they may spend a bit too much time on the golf course or the couch. But when it comes to their kids, their priorities are right in order.

There are many great stories about these guys. The folks over at Children’s Health have firsthand knowledge of them, having witnessed and worked with those dad-type heroes. As the countdown to Father’s Day is underway, Children’s Medical Center Foundation has provided stories about some of these men, who have been through gut-wrenching times with their kids.

Just look over to the right side of the MySweetCharity page and check the Children’s notice like the one pictured here. A different story will be provided there every other day until Sunday.

BTW, the stories, like the best things in life, are absolutely free for the reading.

* Graphic provided by Children's Medical 
Center Foundation

Neiman Marcus Downtown’s Crawl Tubes Have Found A New Home-Sweet-Home With Spark!

Believe it or not, North Texas is heading warp speed from this week’s wet and humid conditions to next week’s dry and summer heat. To better survive this transition, how about a thought of cooler times? For instance, remember back in 2013 when Neiman Marcus Downtown’s windows were a holiday showcase with crawl tubes for munchkins to explore, while people on the sidewalk watched the fun?

Spark!*

Spark!*

Say, what happened to the tubes? Did they end up in a dump? Heavens, no! That’s not the NM way of handling such marvels. Checked with NM Director of Charitable Giving Kevin Hurst about the tubes’ whereabouts. And, of course, he immediately had the answer: “When the tubes ‘retired’ in 2013 they went to a great home. I am happy to say they have been completely transformed and re-purposed and are bringing joy to a whole new set of kiddos at Spark! They literally used everything that was donated, but completely re-purposed and added to it. The tubes now extend 30 feet into the air. They built cool stairs and slides (even has a dragon head). It is quite the experience for both little kids and big kids (that act like little kids).”

Climb Crawl Slide sculpture*

Climb Crawl Slide sculpture*

So, what is Spark? A new theme park? No! Spark! is a year-old non-profit that “provides children from second grade to high school with a fully immersive creative environment and hands-on learning that develops their self-definition as creative individuals. Strategically located in the sub-basement of the historic South Side on Lamar building near a large population of low-income families, Spark! provides a fully immersive learning environment, layering a myriad of creative disciplines to spark the imagination, expand the mind, and engage the body. Through an endless roster of workshops and pop-up activities, students exercise their creativity and learn from creative experts, innovators, and artists.”

Climb Crawl Slide sculpture*

Climb Crawl Slide sculpture*

According to Spark! President/CEO Bev Davis, “In 2015 [we] engaged with 13 different schools and have already worked with more than 40 institutions to date. To celebrate serving 1,775 children in the first seven months of operation, Spark! announced that the facility would be open to the public every Saturday starting in June. In 2016, Spark! will aim to serve more than 5,000 students. Tickets are $10 at the door, $8 in advance.”

In addition to pop-up activities like Giant Light Bright, Recycled Art, Chalk Art, Poetry Magnets and percussion, June’s Spark! Saturdays provide a 6,000-foot Climb, Crawl, Slide Sculpture that looks suspiciously like some NM crawl tubes.

* Graphic and photo courtesy of Spark!

‘Victory Dance’ Marks Over-The-Top Successful Fundraising Campaign For Baylor Health Foundation

If the mood was enthusiastic at the Baylor Health Care System Foundation’s A Night of Gratitude at the Dallas Country Club on Tuesday, April 26, there was a very good reason. The foundation, after all, had just announced the successful completion of its first-ever comprehensive funding campaign, Campaign 2015: Baylor Makes Us All Better.

The campaign, which had an original goal of $250 million, had busted past that mark to hit $270 million. And it was bound to be counting even more cash, with the official closing not scheduled until the end of June.

Joel and Diane Allison and Margo and Bill Goodwin*

Joel and Diane Allison and Margo and Bill Goodwin*

Julie and Jim Turner*

Julie and Jim Turner*

Jeremy Lock and D'Andra Simmons Lock*

Jeremy Lock and D’Andra Simmons Lock*

As the 300 Night of Gratitude guests like Margo and Bill Goodwin, Ellen and Alan Miller, D’Andra Simmons Lock and Jeremy Lock, Christie Carter, and Debbie Oates, poured into the DCC, one of them exclaimed: “This is our little victory dance.”

Dallas Country Club ballroom*

Dallas Country Club ballroom*

And the place was decked out to match the celebration. In the reception area was a huge backdrop of multi-squares, some were filled with dazzling small squares, some with the Baylor Health Care System logo and others spelling out “A Night of Gratitude.” That only hinted at what lay within the ballroom that had been transformed with back-lit white curtains covering the walls and lounging areas and tables set up throughout. At one end of the room was a stage with a backdrop and the word “Gratitude” in script.

Shepherd and Hillary Robinson, Kate Robinson Swail and Robin Robinson*

Shepherd and Hillary Robinson, Kate Robinson Swail and Robin Robinson*

What made the campaign so successful? “I’ve got a great team, and a great board to sell for,” said Foundation President Rowland “Robin” Robinson, as he greeted guests not far from Baylor Scott & White Health President/CEO Joel Allison and Foundations Board Chair Jim Turner.

Glenn Callison*

Glenn Callison*

Pam Busbee*

Pam Busbee*

Richard Eiseman*

Richard Eiseman*

But according to Baylor’s Plano medical center Board Chair Glenn Callison, Robinson was being too modest. “I saw what it was like before Robin joined and since he’s been here, and it’s been absolutely phenomenal,” Glenn said. “He’s the best-kept secret in philanthropy.”

Jill Smith and Trisha Wilson*

Jill Smith and Trisha Wilson*

Vin and Pam Perella*

Vin and Pam Perella*

Hunter Sullivan and his band*

Hunter Sullivan and his band*

As guests including newlyweds Hillary and Shepherd Robinson, Kate Robinson Swail, Jill Smith, Trisha Wilson, Pam Busbee, Randi and Ed Halsell, Richard Eiseman Virginia Chandler Dykes, Lydia and Dan Novakov, Marilyn Augur, Pam and VIn Perella, Richard Eiseman, Shelle and Michael Sills and Carolyn and David Miller enjoyed dinner and music by Hunter Sullivan and his band, more than a few decided to turn the Night of Gratitude into a literal “victory dance.” After all, they knew, more than 30,000 donors had ponied up more than 90,000 gifts for the foundation campaign—including a whopping 40 gifts of $1 million or more. The funds will be invested in patient-focused programs, research, medical education, capital and advanced technology for Baylor Scott & White Health-North Texas.

* Photo credit: Kristina Bowman

The Perot Foundation Provides A Million-Dollar Gift For The Family Place Capital Campaign

Lynn McBee (File photo)

Lynn McBee (File photo)

Great news! Just as The Family Place is preparing for the groundbreaking of the 40,000-square-foot Ann Moody Place, a very nice gift arrived all wrapped up in dollar bills. According to The Family Place Foundation Board President Lynn McBee, the Perot Foundation has provided $1M to The Family Place’s capital campaign.

That sweetheart contribution brings the campaign to $13,594,000 with $3M still to go.

With domestic violence making headlines way too often, people and organizations are digging into their budgets and backing their support of those in need. There are still opportunities to be part of the team bringing The Family Place campaign to the finish line.

Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership Graduating Seniors Were Feted By Junior League Of Dallas Sustainers

With graduations blooming like flowers at the Arboretum, it’s time for the celebrations of graduating seniors to be celebrated. The Junior League of Dallas Sustainers decided to hold one of those for the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School grads like Rosa Mendoza, Angela Chavez, Maria Mendoza and Angie Escorza  on Saturday April 16. Here is a report from the field:

Rosa Mendoza, Angela Chavez, Maria Mendoza and Angie Escorza*

Rosa Mendoza, Angela Chavez, Maria Mendoza and Angie Escorza*

Junior League of Dallas (JLD) Sustainers hosted a special luncheon for the graduating seniors at Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, a member of Young Women’s Preparatory Network (YWPN), at JLD headquarters on Saturday, April 16. Those in attendance included students, family, Irma Rangel Principal Lisa Curry, College Bound Advisor Ann Marano, Community Liaison Katie Allbritton, Advisory Council Chair and JLD Sustainer Beth Brown and JLD Sustainers.

Beth Brown, Lisa Curry and Meredith Mosley*

Beth Brown, Lisa Curry and Meredith Mosley*

JLD President Meredith Mosley welcomed the students, the faculty and families and shared what JLD does. “The mission of the Junior League of Dallas is to develop women leaders who support the community. With more than 70% of our members working outside the home, we are in every part of this city working and volunteering for many worthy organizations.” She encouraged the seniors in their journey from high school to college, quoting from Ernest Hemingway: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

JLD Sustainer president Sandy Ammons welcomed everyone and thanked Carin Moeller and Amy Hatfield, who co-chaired the luncheon. She told the students that volunteering is important and to consider joining JLD after they complete college.

Sandy Ammons, Amy Hatfield and Carin Moeller*

Sandy Ammons, Amy Hatfield and Carin Moeller*

Moeller incorporated the Irma Rangel creed into her thoughtful remarks and finished with the last line: “Girls Today, Women Tomorrow, Leaders Forever.”

Hatfield had all the seniors stand for the exercise portion of the program, where she gave out door prizes based on certain information such as where they were born, how many siblings are in their family, etc.

The most popular attraction at the luncheon was the photo booth where the young ladies took photos dressed in colorful costumes and props.

Hatfield added, “This is the fourth year that the JLD Sustainers have celebrated the senior class, and we took their theme, Dream Big, and added, Dream Big in Texas. We know that these young ladies are on the path to fulfill their dreams with high school and college diplomas.”

YWPN Chief Marketing Officer and JLD Sustainer Juliette Coulter added, “What a celebration that the JLD Sustainers hosted for the seniors, especially the special gifts they presented. Irma Lerma Rangel was the first all-girls school in Texas and first member in the Young Women’s Preparatory Network. Now there are seven schools just like this one throughout Texas.”

YWPN network schools currently serve students in grades 6 through 12 on seven campuses across the state of Texas. YWPN’s results are amazing—100 percent of the girls graduate from high school and 100 percent are accepted into college. Sixty-eight percent of all students come from economically disadvantaged homes, and 68 percent of the Class of 2015 are first generation college students.

* Photos provided by Young Women’s Preparatory Network

JUST IN: Kohl Backs Children’s Medical Center Foundation’s 2016 “Play Well Stay Well Program” To The Tune of $330,817

Just ask any kiddo and they’ll probably know exactly how many hours and minutes until school’s out for the summer. That means there will be plenty of munchkins out and about. But not all of that free time is so great. Each year way too many youngsters end up overdoing and/or having accidents that result in everything from bandages to emergency room runs.

Christopher Durovich (File photo)

Christopher Durovich (File photo)

To cut down on those “oops”, Kohl has once again stepped with a donation to Children’s Medical Center Foundation for its “Play Well Stay Well Program.” This year’s contribution is a whopping $330,817 that brings its financial backing of the program since 2001 to a tidy $4.3M.

“The Play Well Stay Well Program” is designed to provide families with information on “how to lead a healthy, safe and active lifestyle.”

According to Children’s Health System of Texas President/CEO, Christopher Durovich, “We greatly appreciate Kohl’s for its continued generosity to Children’s. The company’s dedication and support of healthy recreation and wellness has been of great importance in advancing our mission of making life better for children.”

The funding is the result of the Kohl’s Cares cause merchandise program where Kohl sells $5 books and plush toys with 100% of the net profits benefit children’s health programs nationwide.

NBC Today’s Hoda Kotb Became Everyone’s Ultimate BFF At The First Interfaith Auxiliary Luncheon

Let’s be brutally honest. The very sound of Interfaith Auxiliary Luncheon creates images of sitting up straight and being rather solemn. Start to rethink that idea. On Tuesday, April 1, Interfaith Housing Coalition somehow managed to launch its first ever Interfaith Auxiliary Luncheon fundraiser without a hint of huffiness or starch. The result was standing ovations (no surprise) and a vast majority of LWL (Ladies Who Lunch) critiquing the event as, “This was the best one ever!”

Darn it. They may have been right.

However, it didn’t exactly appear to be any different than most lunches initially. The reception started with a chill in the air because of the late season drop in temps and the energetic A/C in the Dallas Country Club lobby and ballroom. For once, the lobby fireplace looked like mittens on a snow day.

Kevin and Marybeth Conlon, Robyn and Don Conlon, Megan and Keith Conlon and Jennifer and Joe Clifford

Kevin and Marybeth Conlon, Robyn and Don Conlon, Megan and Keith Conlon and Jennifer and Joe Clifford

And some folks admitted that they didn’t spot many of the usuals. But that changed with the arrival of Honorary Chair Robyn Conlon and her clan (husband Don Conlon, son Keith Conlon and his bride Megan Conlon and son Kevin Conlon and his wife Marybeth Conlon) and Co-Chairs Amy Hegi and Libby Hegi and their crew (parent-in-laws Jan and Fred Hegi and Amy’s husband/Interfaith Board Member Peter Hegi and Libby’s husband/Interfaith Board of Directors Chair Brian Hegi).

Sure, in the crowded lobby, the predictable “oops” of trays of wineglasses on the floor created a cozier condition, but that was relieved by the ballroom doors opening for the sold-out event.

Beth Thoele and Caren Kline

Beth Thoele and Caren Kline

Cara French

Cara French

Still it took time to settle the guests like Nancy Carter, Linda Secrest, Claire Manigold, Beth Thoele, Caren Kline, Cara French, Connie O’Neill, Jennifer and Joe Clifford, Patti Flowers, Libby Hunt, Louise Backa, Alicia Wood and Tiffany Divis in their seats, and there was “no Hoda” in sight. The “Hoda” was Emmy-award-winning NBC Today’s Co-Host Hoda Kotb, who was to be the keynote speaker. Gee, did she miss her flight that morning from NYC to DFW? Nope! She finally appeared all in white and briefly took her place next to KXAS’s Meredith Land, who was the day’s emcee.

Kimberly Williams, Jan and Fred Hegi and Louise Backa

Kimberly Williams, Jan and Fred Hegi and Louise Backa

Hoda had hardly put her napkin in her lap than she was working the room like a presidential candidate while others ate. It was easy to note her latest table visit by the whoops and hollers arising around the room. As if the stop-and-chat wasn’t enough, she earned major points by posing for group photos at the tables. Even the most proper types dropped their forks, jumped up from their chairs and gathered around the Hoda for a group photo.

One of the chaps in the crowd looked mystified by this excitement. But he also admitted that he usually was at the office when Hoda and her co-host Kathie Lee Gifford were exchanging news of the day. But he soon learned the reason for this gal-pal rally.

Meredith Land

Meredith Land

Even when Meredith came to the podium to get things goings, Hoda continued her “table service.” As Meredith introduced the Hegi co-chairs, a cheer erupted from the back of the room as Hoda hit another table.

Amy and Libby thanked all for attending and pointed to Robyn especially for her support. Then Amy told of her first encounter with Interfaith and homelessness. It was Christmas when she was a youngster and her mom bundled the kids up and delivered a Christmas tree to help settle a family in their new home. When Amy asked why the family hadn’t brought their own tree from their old home, her mother explained there had been no old home.

Interfaith CEO Kimberly Williams explained the mission and announced that they had tweaked the organization’s name just slightly. From this day on, it would be known as Interfaith Family Services. But its mission to “empower families in crisis to break the cycle of poverty” would remain the same.

Shemika Hopson

Shemika Hopson

To provide a firsthand report on how Interfaith had made a life-changing difference, Kimberly had Shemika Hopson come to the podium and tell her story.  The diminutive mother perfectly blended humor, confidence, gratitude and a don’t-say-no spirit that hadn’t been heard in a while. She had been living in a car with her two kids, but thanks to the guidance and support by Interfaith, she had grown emotionally and financially resulting in her buying her own home and landing a job and promotions.

In addition to a standing O, Shemika hardly returned to her chair before Hoda was there with her arms around the young mother. Her talk could have easily ended the program and it would have been the kiss of success for the first-time fundraiser.

Hoda was up next and admitted that it was gonna be tough to follow Shemika, but she shouldn’t have been concerned. If anything, Shemika and Hoda were the perfect pairing.

Hoda Kotb

Hoda Kotb

Immediately Hoda took a panoramic photo of the sold-out crowd. Then she explained that Kathie Lee had been on vacation for the past week. Hoda then recorded the guests saying with big smiles, “Welcome back, Kathie Lee.”

After putting her smartphone down, Hoda told how she got her start as a TV reporter. Blending a perfect balance of self-deprecating humor and stellar storytelling, she took the audience through her countless rejections, embarrassments and OMG success of her life. In landing her first job, she borrowed her mother’s car and told how she was going to Richmond, Virginia, for a job interview knowing that it was hers. When she arrived at the station, she looked around and decided where she would sit and which fella she would date. The news director looked at her tape for less than a couple of minutes and told her that she wasn’t ready for his station, but he did know a news director in Roanoke who might have an opening. A bit surprised but determined, she set off to Roanoke to meet the news director with the same results — not quite ready. Her thought was “Who in the hell is not ready for Roanoke?” But he told her about still another news director in Memphis who might hire her, but he was flying out the next day, so she had to hurry over to Memphis to catch him. Same thing happened there. This happened more than 22 times as she drove from station to station and city to city feeling more defeated each time. Somehow, the way Hoda told the story, everyone in the audience identified with the feeling of rejection but laughed with her in recalling the journey.

Really discouraged and tired after ten days of rejection, she found herself lost in Mississippi and spied a sign promoting the local CBS station — “Greenville, our eye is on you.” She took it as a sign, walked into the station and presented her muchly rejected tape to WXVT TV News Director Stan Sandroni, who admitted that just the day before he had been the sports director. He told “Hilda” to come on in. As he watched the tape, Hoda was shocked to see him “watch the whole, terrible, horrible tape to the end.” He told her, “Hilda, I like what I see.” She was shocked and said, “You do?” He hired her, giving her the first chance in her TV reporting career. “This guy, Stan Sandroni, changed the course of my life.”

Hoda Kotb

Hoda Kotb

Later in her days at the station, Stan came into the newsroom and asked, “Who has a blazer?” Hoda volunteered that she did. He said, “Oh, good, you need to anchor the news because Anne [the female anchor] was sick.” She had never anchored, but she knew there was a teleprompter and it was a one-anchor newscast. She looked at the teleprompter that read, “Good evening, I’m Hoda Kotb. Anne Martin is out sick.” The red light went on. The guy cued her. She said, “Good evening, I’m Anne Martin.” The rest of the show was downhill — “When I mess up, I keep on messing up. I can’t stop it. It was like I was riding the toboggan down the mountain screaming.”

She knew she was going to be fired the next day, so she headed to the grocery in search of comfort food. Instead in the ice cream aisle, “A woman comes over and she looks crazy. Her hair was all crazy and she had one or two teeth and she goes ‘Oh, my God, I just seen you TV and I am so sorry for you.’”

The next day Stan said he had seen what she did and it was pretty horrible, but “Anne’s sick again,” so he gave a second chance.

Years later after winning awards and climbing the TV news ladder, the folks at 30 Rock asked the on-air talent to bring someone to Studio One A who changed the course of their lives. Hoda’s pick was Stan. He walked in and said, “Oh, my God, Al Roker! Matt Lauer!”

Hoda’s message to the audience: It only takes one person to change your life.

Editor’s note: What Hoda didn’t tell the audience was Stan died less than 18 months ago at the age of 64 from a heart attack.

She then told of a state trooper who dropped everything during the Katrina evacuation to locate a child who had been placed on a bus without his mother. They were reunited in Houston.

It was also during Katrina that she was in a car sweating through her clothes and her producer told her to change her shirt to do a stand up. She took her shirt off and “was sitting there in her soaking wet bra talking to myself, talking to God. And just at that exact same moment, a bus pulls up right next to me. I looked up and there are these guys on the bus and they started banging on the windows and saying, ‘Hey, news lady, we see your titties.’ I so needed that.”

And then there was the meeting with the intern when a phone call came in from her doctor telling her that she had breast cancer. It was obvious the news was not good. Not knowing what the doctor had told Hoda, the intern asked if she wanted to be alone. Hoda said yes. But before the intern left, she asked for a favor. Hoda agreed, thinking it was to exchange numbers or take a picture. The intern asked if she could hug Hoda. “I remember looking at this kid, who knew nothing about me. But that was exactly what I needed right there and right then. This kid just wrapped her arms around me and I was like crying into this intern’s arms and she left probably wondering, ‘Who’s the crazy?’”

Following her breast surgery, Matt Lauer called her with an assignment to go to Ireland. It was pretty soon after the surgery, but her doctor gave her permission. She admitted that she felt very vulnerable and on the way home she wasn’t feeling very well and was having second thoughts on whether it had been a good idea to have taken the trip. Next to her on the plane was a man, who asked, “How are you doing?” Despite Hoda’s obviously wanting to left alone, he continued trying to strike up a conversation with her. Eventually he got his way and they started talking. He asked, “What is that on your arm?” She explained that it was compression sleeve due to a procedure. He persisted asking her what kind of procedure. She finally fessed up that she’d had breast cancer and hoped that he wouldn’t get off of the plane telling people that he’d sat next to a girl who had had breast cancer. To that he asked, “What is wrong with you? Breast cancer is just a part of you. It is like going to college, getting married or working at NBC. Let me give you some advice and you can go to sleep.” He then gave her some advice “that I never forgot, ever. He said, ‘Don’t hog your journey. It’s not just for you.’ Right, Shemika?”

Linda Secrest and Claire Manigold

Linda Secrest and Claire Manigold

All eyes in the ballroom went straight to Shemika.

“He said, “Think how many people you can help right now. His name is Ken Duane.” That conversation put her on the road to promoting breast cancer awareness and taught her three things:

  1. Life has margins. There is a beginning and end, so she stopped wasting time. “I hold so tightly to the things I love and got rid of the things that I didn’t love. So, now I’m divorced.”
  2. If you survive anything big and you’re still standing at the end, then you get four words: “You can’t scare me.”
  3. The way you spend your days is the way you spend your life.

In closing, Hoda told of a random act of kindness. She got in the elevator at her apartment building and there was “this girl who looks kind of weird with an Oscar the Grouch hat pulled down.” She also had a box of cupcakes that Hoda asked about. The girl told her they were salted caramel. Hoda remarked that they smelled great and the girl told her that they had come from the bakery in Brooklyn, “30 or 40 minutes away.” The girl departed and that was it, or so Hoda thought. The next day the door man handed over a box that someone had left with a note that read, “Hi, I was the girl wearing the Oscar the Grouch hat and I met you in the elevator. You were admiring my cupcakes, but they were both spoken for. I had a little extra time, so I went to Brooklyn and got you two more.”

Hoda said, “Can you believe she did that? That’s a random act of kindness that can change your life. Now, that girl in the Oscar the Grouch hat doesn’t know that I told her story at a great speech in Dallas.”

Despite the clock in the ballroom ticking, no one wanted her to stop. Hoda was their new, absolutely BFF. And what does an audience give their BFF speaker? A standing O.

Amy Hegi, Hoda Kotb and Libby Hegi

Amy Hegi, Hoda Kotb and Libby Hegi

Later at a meet-and-greet that took place just before 2 p.m. in the Founders’ Room, Hoda hadn’t changed one iota. When she spotted the Louboutin fringed stilettos on Megan Conlon, she couldn’t contain herself. It was discovered that the shoes had been a V-day gift to Megan from her husband Keith. Upon seeing the national TV celebrity’s excitement about the footwear, Conlon brother Kevin told Keith that he was getting the other Conlon men in trouble — “I just got Marybeth flowers.”

Hoda Kotb, Don Conlon and Megan Conlon

Hoda Kotb, Don Conlon and Megan Conlon

PS — Hoda was schedule to be the commencement speaker at Tulane University Saturday, May 14, but some students circulated a petition saying, “Given the amount of money, work and passion we have poured into our educational careers at Tulane, we think we deserve better than this. Hoda Kotb is hardly an inspirational figure, and despite the fact that she has had a successful career in journalism, we feel that we deserve a more recognizable and more prominent figure than her.”

Days later the petition was replaced by one supporting the choice. So, Hoda is still on for the event and who knows? Perhaps if those naysayers open their ears and minds they just might discover that Hoda is that person of change in their lives.

Educational First Steps Oversteps Its $5M Goal To Provide High-Quality Early Education For At-Risk Children

It’s routine to hear that a group is launching a campaign to raise a load of money. That announcement triggers an uphill challenge to meet a monumental goal that’s beyond six figures. What makes it especially trying is the fact that there are so many deserving nonprofits after the same dollars. But there is good news. And that is the fact that North Texas has the most incredibly generous philanthropist anywhere. Whether it’s the $10 variety or the billionaire type, people in these parts put their dollars where it help those friends and strangers in need.

All that said, here is a perfect example of a fundraising campaign that more than achieved its goal.

Less than two years ago, Education First Steps kicked off its “Step Up” program expansion campaign with a goal of $5M. With that money the Dallas-based nonprofits planned “to bring high-quality early education to 4,800 at-risk children in North Texas every year, setting them on a path to school and life success.”

Not only did they hit their goal, they surpassed it with a whopping $5.9M, thanks to donations from 730 individuals and foundations including the following:

  • $1 million+: Dallas Women’s Foundation and Harold Simmons Foundation
  • $100,000 – $200,000: Lydia and Bill Addy, Anonymous, Alice and Bill Barnett, Jennifer and Jon Mosle, The Moody Foundation, Charles Munson, Mona and David Mona Munson and The Rees-Jones Foundation
  • $50,000 – $99,999: Anonymous, Don and Ruth Buchholz, Katherine C. Carmody Charitable Trust, The Dallas Foundation, Exxon Mobil, Hillcrest Foundation, Hoblitzelle Foundation, The Hoglund Foundation, Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation, Laurie Wyly Matthews Fund, North Texas Giving Day, Norma and Don Stone and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas
  • $25,000 – $49,999: Bonnie and Gary Beck, Fran and Mark Berg, Fossil Foundation, Barb and Dan Garton, Beth and Jim Gold, Megan and Casey McManemin, Dave Munson Jr., John Munson, Najim Family Foundation, Susan Simon, Margaret and Jaime Spellings and Octavia Spencer
  • $10,000 – $24,999: 7-Eleven, Ben E. Keith, Nancy and John Breitfeller, The Communities Foundation of Texas, Dallas CityScape, Kathy Crow, Sally and Bill Estes, Sandra and Henry Estess, Rachel Goldberger and Shawn Orme, Josephine Hughes, Dorothy Kennington, Brett and Lester Levy, Michelle and Bill Lockhart, Sarah Losinger, John Munson, Partners Real Estate Group, Betty and Gerald Regard, The Rosewood Foundation, Julie and Trem Smith, Sterling Foundation, Michele Valdez and Gary Kennedy, CiCi and Giffen Weinmann Foundation

According to Education First Steps Executive Director John Breitfeller, “Breaking the cycle of poverty and underachievement requires disruptive, system-wide solutions. With the extraordinary investment the community has made in our work, Education First Steps is accelerating the spread of quality early childhood education in high-need neighborhoods and introducing new programs to make sure the best childcare centers remain strong and accessible to economically disadvantaged families.”

One of the results of the campaign was the creation of the Child Care Bridge Fund, thanks to the gift from the Dallas Women’s Foundation. It will provide “short-term scholarships for parents on the state subsidy wait list, so they can connect immediately with high-quality care for their children.” This issue was brought to the attention of many attending the Dallas Women’s Foundation’s 30th Annual Luncheon, where DFW President/CEO Ros Dawson described the organization’s Bridge Project that is helping women with childcare.

But the total money raised was even more that the original, hoped-for amount. Tarrant County kicked in additional funding, bringing a final count of more than $7M, which will help support the expansion of the program in Tarrant County. Since 2014, Educational First Steps “has increased the number of children it reaches in Tarrant County by 50 percent.”  Those contributing to the Tarrant County efforts included the following:

  • $100,000 – $249,999: Sid W. Richardson Foundation
  • $50,000 – $99,999: The Morris Foundation, Rainwater Charitable Foundation, The Ryan Foundation
  • $25,000 – $49,999: Community Foundation of North Texas, Eddleman – McFarland Day Nursery Fund, Helen Irwin Littauer Educational Trust, The Lowe Foundation
  • $10,000 – $24,999: The Ninnie L. Baird Foundation, Mary Potishman Lard Trust, The Miles Foundation

Thanks to this campaign overachieving its efforts, 4,800 children in Dallas and Tarrant counties will have a stronger foundation for lifelong learning.