The Elisa Project’s Life Lessons Luncheon Had DWTS’s Nancy Kerrigan, Unexpected Add-Ons To The Program And Rumbling Tummies

After years of holding luncheons at hotels and last year’s breakfast at the Belo, The Elisa Project held a luncheon for its Life Lessons fundraiser at the Belo on Friday, March 3. It kicked off with a VIP reception at 11:00, but, unlike other meet-and-greet receptions with the celebrity du jour, this one had no grip-and-grin photo opp with luncheon speaker Nancy Kerrigan, or even a sponsor backdrop. Instead, guests passed the word that “She’s over there” and “She’s so sweet” and “She looks wonderful” and snapped photos with the accommodating Kerrigan.

Kim Bannister, Ariana Luterman, Nancy Kerrigan and Allana Luterman

Alas, a photo of Co-Chairs Rhonda Sargent Chambers and Melissa Rountree, Kerrigan and Honorary Chair Toni Munoz-Hunt was stalled. Word was passed that “Toni is on her way” as the doors to the ballroom opened just after 11:30. Then tall, gorgeous Toni gathered with Nancy, Rhonda and Melissa for a snap.

Rhonda Sargent Chambers, Toni Munoz Hunt, Nancy Kerrigan and Melissa Rountree

In the crowd of supporters were Kim Bannister, Holly Davis, Pamela Graham, Carlotta Lennox, mom-to-be Jenny Anchondo, Ellen Winspear, Lisa Cooley with daughter Ciara Cooley and daughter-in-law-to-be Bela Pjetrovic, Tiffany Divis, Lynn McBee and Nancy Gopez.

Nancy Gopez and Tiffany Divis

Carlotta Lennox and Pamela Graham

Lisa Cooley, Jenny Anchondo and Bela Pjetrovic

As The Elisa Project Executive Director Kim Martinez stood on the floor with mic in hand, she called the group to their seats at tables pre-set with salads, desserts, a bowl of bread, a floral arrangement, water and ice tea. More about this setup later.

The printed program set out a plan for just five speakers — Kim, The Elisa Project Board Chair Dr. Stephanie Setliff, Star of Hope Awardee Dr. Andy McGarrahan, LEAD Awardee Ariana Luterman and keynoter Kerrigan. Instead, the program was extended with multiple unscripted speakers.

Following the invocation, Stephanie had Rhonda and Melissa come to the podium to talk about their helping those with eating disorders. They, in turn, thanked Toni, whom they asked to address the group.

It was then announced that the Esteem Fashion Show fundraiser would be held once again at Tootsies in the fall.  When the announcement of the Esteem honorary chair was made, the supposed honorary chair looked stunned. She had already told them she couldn’t do it. Oops.

Stephanie presented the Star of Hope Award to Dr. Andy McGarrahan, who twinned humility with humor in accepting the award.

Stephanie Setliff

Andrew McGarrahan

After Andy’s acceptance, Stephanie announced she was going off-script. Co-Chair Rhonda looked at her timeline and looked a bit baffled. But before she could figure out what was going on, she heard Stephanie tell of Rhonda’s commitment to the organization over the years and asked her to come back to the stage to receive a token of appreciation. Despite being caught off guard, Rhonda thanked her mom and dad (“Perhaps you should have worn a tie”), her husband and family, and told how much The Elisa Project meant to her.

Kim then presented the LEAD Award to Greenhill student wunderkind Ariana for her volunteering to handle The Elisa Project’s social media. In the audience, Ariana’s mother, Allana Luterman, recorded her daughter’s acceptance on her cellphone.

As a video was shown about The Elisa Project, some guests were starting to wonder if the seasonal mixed salad with herb vinaigrette had been the entrée. After all, it was 35 minutes into the program and the salads and dressing were long gone. All that remained were the empty salad plates putting the desserts just beyond reach. At one table a guest with long arms reached for the passel of rolls and started to pass it around. As more presentations of speakers and a video continued, the floral arrangements were starting to look downright tasty.

Whitney Kutch

In making a call for money at the 45-minute mark, Elisa Board Member Whitney Kutch came to the stage and announced that she and Melissa were issuing a $4,000-challenge for guests to match. 

Finally, Kim announced there would be a break for lunch. Quickly, the staff replaced the salad plates with dishes of chicken, carrots and whipped potatoes. Luckily, Nancy’s table was one of the first to be served. She managed to take a couple of bites before being called to the podium.

Her life story has truly been challenging. There had been the Tonya Harding episode; the heart-breaking efforts for Olympic gold; her brother’s being on trial for their father’s death; her recently announced joining the “2017 Dancing With the Stars” cast.

Would she speak on all, or just one, of those subjects? Instead, she spoke extemporaneously for 30 minutes about everything from her kids to her own challenges of looking figure perfect and fitting into costumes. A couple of times during her talk she admitted that she was bouncing from subject to subject.

Nancy Kerrigan

Then she teared up and told how she had truly been touched by Leslie and Rick McCall’s motivation in creating The Elisa Project to fulfill their late daughter’s wish to help prevent others from the agony of eating disorders. That would have been the perfect place to have ended the talk. But Kerrigan continued, with some guests slipping out at this point and others sneaking peaks at their watches.

Nearing the end of her talk, Nancy admitted she had been guilty of unhealthy care-taking. She had put others’ needs before her own and had worked to overcome that practice. However, she revealed that she was helping one of her sons, who seemed to be following his mother’s care-taking role.

Instead of allowing guests to head to their cars, Kim took to the floor with mic in hand for questions from the audience. Less than a handful of hands were raised, while others headed for the door.

JUST IN: Life Lesson’s Nancy Kerrigan And A Chance To Soar’s Simone Biles Announced As 2017 “Dancing With The Stars” Cast Members

Bright and early this morning the 2017 celebrities were announced for the 2017 “Dancing With The Stars” lineup. A couple of them will be in town for fundraising lunches before competing for the mirrored ball.

Simone Biles*

Nancy Kerrigan**

And the announcement couldn’t be better timed for two area nonprofits. While award-winning gymnast Simone Biles‘ appearance at the Jonathan’s Place‘s  “A Chance To Soar” won’t take place until Tuesday, April 25, ice skating sweetheart Nancy Kerrigan will be at Belo Mansion Friday for the “Life Lessons Luncheon” benefiting The Elisa Project.

While there’s no telling who will be in the finals, good money is on Nancy and Simone. They’re both Olympian medalists, graceful, agile and pretty darn cute.

In the meantime, get your ticket for Friday’s lunch. Nancy’s life both on the rink and behind the scenes has been filled with highs and lows. 

* Photo provided by Jonathan's Place 
** Photo provided by The Elisa Project

MySweet2017Goals: Melissa Rountree

Melissa Rountree (File photo)

According to 2017 Life Lessons Luncheon Co-Chair Melissa Rountree,

“One of my 2017 goals is to raise awareness and funds for The Elisa Project, a non-profit organization whose mission is to fight against deadly eating disorders by promoting the importance of healthy living, positive body image and self-esteem in all youth; through education, case management resources and advocacy efforts.

“On behalf of my Co-Chair Rhonda Sargent Chambers and Honorary Chair Toni Munoz-Hunt, I invite you to support the important work of The Elisa Project by attending the 12th annual Life Lessons Luncheon on Friday, March 3.

Rhonda Sargent Chambers (File photo)

Toni Munoz Hunt (File photo)

Nancy Kerrigan*

“This year’s event will feature two-time Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan as the featured speaker.  As one of America’s most recognizable spots icons, Nancy will share her journey as an athlete, mother, and now executive producer of an upcoming documentary, ‘Why Don’t You Lose 5 Pounds?,’  which addresses the connection between athletes and eating disorders, something Nancy has experienced personally.

“The Life Lessons Luncheon benefiting The Elisa Project will be held on Friday, March 3, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Belo Mansion located at 2101 Ross Avenue in Dallas. 

“Sponsorships begin at $1,750 and are on sale now; limited $175 individual tickets will go on sale Wednesday, February 1.  For more information or to purchase tickets or sponsorships, visit 12th Annual Life Lessons Luncheon or  contact  The Elisa Project Executive Director Kimberly Martinez at  866.837.1999  or  [email protected].”

* Photo provided by 
The Elisa Project

JUST IN: Figure-Skating Great Nancy Kerrigan To Be Keynote Speaker for 12th Annual Life Lessons Luncheon

Plans are already underway for spring 2017 with announcements of plans and peeps. One of the first is The Elisa Project’s 12th Annual Life Lesson Luncheon. Co-Chairs Rhonda Sargent Chambers and Melissa Rountree, along with Toni Munoz-Hunt, have arranged for the fundraiser to take place at The Belo Mansion on Friday, March 3.

Rhonda Sargent Chambers (File photo)

Rhonda Sargent Chambers (File photo)

Melissa Rountree (File photo)

Melissa Rountree (File photo)

Toni Munoz Hunt (File photo)

Toni Munoz Hunt (File photo)

Nancy Kerrigan*

Nancy Kerrigan*

Got that date down? Now, for the big news — the keynote speaker. It will be figure skating icon Nancy Kerrigan, who won the 1992 Winter Olympics bronze media and the silver medal at the 1992 World Championships. In 1993 Nancy took home the silver medal in figure skating from the Lillehammer Winter Olympics.

Following her days on the ice, she has been active in everything from the entertainment industry to corporate endorsements.

One of her most current projects is serving as executive producer and appearing in “Why Don’t You Lose 5 Pounds?” The feature-length documentary will “focus on the difficulties and pressures faced by athletes in so-called ‘lean’ sports such as figure skating.”

She brings her concern about “the struggle athletes at all levels of competition face in returning to competition after being diagnosed with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Despite affecting more athletes than concussions, eating disorders get relatively little attention in the popular sports world.  Eating disorders kill more people annually than any other mental illness, and many athletes find themselves at a higher risk for a problem.”

According to Rhonda, “We are absolutely thrilled to have Nancy Kerrigan join us as the keynote speaker for the Life Lessons Luncheon. While many of us have admired Nancy for her Olympic skating career, we look forward to her sharing her journey as an athlete, mother, and now executive producer of an upcoming documentary which addresses the connection between athletes and eating disorders, something Nancy has experienced personally as well.”

Sponsorships are currently available starting at $1,750. Individual tickets won’t go on sale until Wednesday, February 1.

* Photo provided by The Elisa Project