Itty-Bitty Gold Medalist Simone Biles Scored A Perfect Ten For Jonathan’s Place’s “A Chance To Soar” Luncheon Guests Of All Ages

Dirk and Jessica Nowitzki

If Episcopal School of Dallas or The Hockaday School staffers noticed that their lunchroom were a bit scant of students on Tuesday, April 25, they were right. The lasses were at the Hilton Anatole’s Imperial Ballroom with their parents’ permission.

The occasion was Jonathan’s Place’s “A Chance To Soar Luncheon.” Now, normally it might be considered a grown-up event, but this one had two mega-athletes — Olympian God Medalist/former foster child Simone Biles on stage and Maverick main man Dirk Nowitzki as one of the day’s award recipient.

As mom Tracy Lange surmised, a couple of the moms hosted a table for their girl and others quickly followed suit filling the ballroom with 700.

Tracy Lange, Livia Lange, Amelia Schoellkopf, Olivia Hohmann, Mary Ellen Schoellkopf, Kate Eastin and Monica Eastin

Sydney Hoyl and Kristi Hoyl

While some might question pulling the young ladies out of school, others reasoned that in addition to seeing and/or seeing world-class role models, the girls had the opportunity to be part of a grownup fundraising experience.

Some of the young luncheoners like Livia Lange, Amelia Schoellkopf, Olivia Hohmann, Mary Ellen Schoellkopf, Kate Eastin and Caroline Bagley were dressed to the nines. Too bad they’re too young for 10 best Dressed. Others like Sydney Hoyl opted to stay in their school uniforms.

Simone Biles and Ron Biles

The photo opp for guests and Simone was a bit ramble scramble due to Simone’s late arrival. She had been delayed due to an interview in another area of the hotel with KXAS/emcee Meredith Land.

Walked to the front of the room with her father, Ron Biles, the Simone’s 4’9” size seemed even more so standing next to 7’0” Dirk. Still her smile was as big as ever despite having taken a flight from Los Angeles following her appearance on “Dancing With The Stars” the night before.

Even before folks like Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones, Jenny and Trevor Rees-Jones III, Stacey Walker, Jessica Nowitzki, Lydia Novakov, Tracy Rathbun, Monica Eastin and Pam Busbee, took their seats, the raffle tickets were sold out.

Pam Busbee

Tracy Rathbun

Stacey Walker and Bryan Dunagan

Following the welcome by Luncheon Co-Chairs Julie Bagley and Rachel Stephens, the invocation by Highland Park Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor Bryan Dunagan and a luncheon of pecan crusted chicken breast salad, the following awards were presented:

  • Award of Compassion to Dirk Nowitzki
  • Award of Excellence to Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones
  • Award of Service to Gary Borofsky representing Dillard’s

Jonathon’s Place’s CEO Allicia Graham Frye told the group that last year 277 children were handled by Jonathan’s Place. She finished her remarks saying, “My wish is that every child that comes across my path would feel loved.”

Allicia Graham Frye and Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones

It should be noted that unlike the Chick Lit Luncheon, the audience was silent during the award presentation and Allicia’s remarks.

It was then time for Simone to chat with Meredith Land on stage. The under current in the room seemed to race as if Santa had just popped down the chimney. For those close to the stage, they got a pretty good look at the twosome. However, the quality of the lighting and video created shadows making the on-screen presentation challenging.

Simone Biles

Still, Simone did not disappoint with such revelations:

  • “I was just a crazy kid.”
  • She started gymnastics at the age of six and loved it immediately.
  • Her routine was an hour and half of conditioning, going to school and returning to the gym for her real workout. Such a regime required more than dedication, it demanded sacrifice like, “I’ve never been to a prom. I cried a lot. Sasha (___, her DWTS partners) was the first guy that she had really danced with and “he was 20 years old.”
  • Regrets — “I shouldn’t say that I do because of all of the accomplishments that I have from it. It’s all worked very well.”
  • Bullying — “Rise above it and use it as a motivation to do anything that you want to do and to always prove them wrong.”
  • Confidence — “I have very down-to-earth parents. I have amazing friends. My brothers, as well, are supporting me. It’s kind of easy to do that. But at times it gets hard because I want to be a normal kid and do other things. At the end of the day it’s my goal that I want.”
  • Olympics — “I actually didn’t really want to go to the Olympics when I was younger. I said I did because every little girl wanted to, so I would say, ‘I want to go to the Olympics.’ At a time in my career I knew I could be the best and it scared me so much that I would sometime sabotage my gymnastics. I knew I had the potential, but I didn’t want all that attention on me. It scared me so much. So I would do things on purpose. But I got out of it…. In February 2016 I had a really big breakdown. I had been at the top for three years and I thought this is my really big year, but what if I get hurt. And I started thinking of all these things, so I was too scared to even tumble. I thought if I land wrong, there goes my Olympic game. I would go to the bar and start bawling. It happened for two weeks. I cried a lot. I would go to practice and my coach would be like, ‘Just go home.’ My Dad told me to call my sports psychologist and I said, ‘No, I just want to cry.’ And my dad called him. He came into my room and handed the phone to me and I usually don’t cry in front of him or really anybody, and I just started bawling my eyes out — ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m not going to make the team. Blah, blah, blah.’ He (the sports psychologist) said, ‘Simone, what was the first thing I said to you when you came into my office?’ We chatted about it.”
  • Sports Psychologist — “For three years your parents, your coaches, your mentors, it’s good to have someone that knows your sport but it helps that it’s not the same person over and over again.”
  • Whom did she not want to disappoint — “I didn’t want to let down America because they had such big goals for me. They expected me to get five gold medals and I only walked out with four, so I felt like I let them down a little bit.” Afterwards she was asked in an interview about how badly she felt getting a bronze instead of a gold, her response was, “I’m sorry if that was your goal. I’m sorry if you guys had to backspace on your typewriter. I’m pretty happy. This was my first Olympics and I’m 19 years old and ma walking out of here with five medals. My goal was to make the finals. Whatever happens happens. I came out with four golds and one bronze and pretty proud of myself. I’m sorry if I disappointed you because they already crowned me with five gold medals. I think they (the interviewer) was trying to put it on me, so that’s what hurt a little bit.”
  • On the podium — “You feel like you’re a princess up there. It never feels real. I would always look at my parents. They would be bawling and I would then start tearing up. I’m an ugly crier.”
  • Post Olympics — “I haven’t worked out since the Olympics. It is my year off, so that is why I chose ‘Dancing With The Stars.’ I’m going on a vacations with my family this summer.  One is Hawaii and the other is Belize… I eat ice cream every chance I get.”
  • 2020 — “I’m going to train for the 2020 Olympics.”
  • What makes Texas special — “It’s the people. I’m in LA right now and it’s very different. I think it’s the southerness.”
  • What she misses — “I miss my bed and my dogs. I cook for my dogs. They’re spoiled little things. They have monogrammed beds. They’re not little. They’re German Shepherds. We have three.”
  • First Date — “It was like low key. I had never been on a date before or had a boyfriend. So, it’s all new. We just went to get frozen yogurt. It was a little scary. I’ve trained all my life to go to the Olympics, not to go on a date.”
  • The future — “I think I want to do something with sports management.”
  • Foster care — “[Being a foster parent] really does change a child’s life. It does give them a home, love. A lot of them age out at the age of 18 and that makes me sad. I was very fortunate for my situation. It really does make difference in the kids’ eyes.”
  • She recalled that before being rescued from her birth mother, there were days when she ate her cereal with white.
  • She felt that she would not win “Dancing With The Stars.”

At the end of the conversation, Simone looked out into the audience with each member holding a card reading “10.”   

She was then off to Jonathan’s Place to visit with children waiting for a foster parent.

SOLD-OUT ALERT: A Chance To Soar

Simone Biles*

Yup, those ten seats that were still unfilled yesterday for Jonathan’s Place‘s A Chance To Soar Luncheon Tuesday are gone. Translation: Simone Biles will be facing a sold-out crowd at the Anatole.

* Photo provided by Jonathan's Place

Grovel Alert: A Chance To Soar Luncheon

Just heard from Jonathan’s Place CEO Allicia Graham Frye that as of noon today, there were just 10 tickets left for Tuesday’s “A Chance To Soar Luncheon” at the Hilton Anatole.

Trevor and Jan Rees-Jones (File photo)

No wonder! Just some of the VIP types in attendance will be enough to have cell-photos being taken nonstop. Co-Chairs Julie Bagley and Rachel Stephens have arranged to have Tiffany Cuban, Jessica and Dirk Nowitzki, Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones, Meredith Land and Dillard’s Corporate Beauty VP Gary Borofsky tableside.

Simone Biles*

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the darling of the 2016 Olympics Simone Biles will be the keynote speaker. Her life story reflects Jonathan’s Place’s mission to provide a safe, loving home and specialized services to children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected.” Let’s hope that she doesn’t get eliminated on Monday night’s “Dancing With The Stars.” That would mean her taking the red-eye to NYC for Tuesday morning’s “Good Morning America.” But the money’s on Simone remaining as part of the cast and overnight flying to North Texas. And who knows? Maybe her dancing partner Sasha Farber will be with her at the lunch.

Remember, just 10 seats are left, so get that reservation in now.

* Photo provided by Jonathan's Place

JUST IN: Jonathan’s Place Adds Tiffany And Mark, Dirk And Jan And Trevor To “A Chance To Soar Luncheon” Namedropping Lineup

Simone Biles*

Boy, talk about name dropping! As if the Jonathan’s Place’s “A Chance To Soar” luncheon on Tuesday, April 25, at the Hilton Anatole wasn’t gangbusters enough with Olympian Simone Biles as the featured speaker, an impressive array of nationally known locals have been added to the lineup.

According to Jonathan’s Place CEO Allicia Graham Frye, “We are so grateful to Tiffany and Mark Cuban for their continued support of Jonathan’s Place and are very proud to have them serve as honorary chairs for the luncheon this year.”  

In addition to Simone chatting it up with NBC 5’s Meredith Land, the following distinguished Jonathan’s Place supporters will be recognized:

  • Award of Compassion: Dirk Nowitzki (Dirk Nowitzki Foundation)
  • Award of Service: Dillard’s
  • Award of Excellence: Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones (Trevor Rees-Jones Foundation)

Trevor and Jan Rees-Jones (File photo)

While sponsorships are still available, folks who purchase tables at $2,500 will also receive tickets to a VIP reception and photo opp with Simone.

At this date the following sponsors have already signed up:

  • Champion Sponsor: Insperity and Mohr Partners
  • Hero Sponsor: Al G. Hill Jr.
  • Guardian Sponsors: Julie and Scott Bagley, Allison and John Carlisle, Tracy and Ben Lange, Macy’s, Larissa and Mitchell Milby, Kay Sim, Rachel and Brad Stephens, Strategic Dealer Services and Stacey and Reid Walker
  • Defender Sponsors: At Home, Dana and Brad Ayres, Barbie and Bill Borlaug, Keri Brookshire and Susan Mattox, Kimberly and Christopher Cocotos, ConnectThree, Serena Simmons Connelly, Suzie and Bunker Curnes, Mary and Ted Fredericks, Icon Partners, Amy Mahoney and Nikki Wolff, Jenny and Jason Lichty, Alexandra Lovitt, Beth Maultsby and Goranson Bain PLLC, Jennifer and Bradley Norris, Josephine C. Olson, Kerry and Don Peterson, Stephanie and Todd Phillips, Marcellene Malouf and Royal Furgeson, Julie and Eliot Raffkind, Katherine and Eric Reeves, Cordelia and David Rendall, Republic National Distribution Co., Randa and Doug Roach, Southern Enterprises LLC, Verner Brumley Mueller Parker PC, April and John Willingham and Linda and Ken Wimberly

JUST IN: Gymnast Extraordinaire Simone Biles To Be Keynote Speaker For 6th Annual A Chance To Soar

She may itsy bitsy, but gymnast Simone Biles has become a giant among the spectrum of legendary athletes thanks to her many accomplishments including the recent Rio Olympics sweep. There are those who swear that she’s “The most talented gymnast of all-time.”

Simone Biles*

Simone Biles*

But she also has an incredible back story of how as a youngster, her parents were MIA due to their addictions. Simone and her siblings were “in and out of foster care,” until she and “her sister Adria were adopted by their grandparents at a young age.” It was a major turning point for the girls. They discovered gymnastics and as they say, “the rest is history.”

That’s just a Reader’s Digest version of Simone’s story. The real one will take place on Tuesday, April 25.  Sixth Annual A Chance to Soar Co-Chairs Julie Bagley and Rachel Stephens have arranged to have Simone as the keynote speaker for the Jonathan’s Place fundraiser.  

According to Jonathan’s Place CEO Allicia Graham Frye, “Jonathan’s Place is over the moon to have Simone Biles share her story of courage to overcome a tumultuous childhood. We are grateful for her sincerity and condiment her story will be an inspiration to all supporters — old and new — of Jonathan’s Place.”

The question on the table is where the event will take place. Stay tuned. In the meantime, sponsorships are available and table sales begin at $2,500. But don’t wait for the location to be announced. This one is going to be a sell-out.

* Photo provided by Jonathan's Place

Dr. Lara Johnson Took Jonathan’s Place’s “A Chance To Soar” Luncheon To New Heights Of Awareness

On Tuesday, April 26, two leading organizations that are solely focused on protecting children had fundraising lunches in different parts of the city. While Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center gathered folks at the Sheraton Dallas, Jonathan’s Place’s “A Place to Soar” celebrated its 25th anniversary at the Dallas Country Club.  Priscilla Garcia filed this report from the DCC:

For 25 years Jonathan’s Place has been “protecting and caring for the previous children of North Texas, who have suffered from abuse, abandonment and neglect.” Just this past year they added to their services the Girls Transitional Living Program for young women ages 18-23 who have aged out of the foster system. Through the program these young women learn to be responsible and how to care for themselves.

On Tuesday, April 26, Jonathan’s Place celebrated its 25th anniversary at its annual “A Chance To Soar” luncheon at the Dallas Country Club. Luncheon Co-Chairs Allison Carlisle and Rachel Stephens arranged to have Caren and Peter Kline serve as honorary co-chairs and for NBC’s Meredith Land to have a sit-down conversation with Dr. Lara Johnson. Through her heartfelt story, Lara revealed that she had a very rough childhood. Her mother was a heroin addict. Her father was an alcoholic. Lara focused on school and was a very good student. Luckily, her Woodrow Wilson High School teacher, Pat Faherty, encouraged her to fill out college application forms even though it was passed the deadline. Pat saw something in Lara. Through Pat’s help, Lara was able to go to college.

Meredith Land, Allicia Graham Frye and Lara Johnson*

Meredith Land, Allicia Graham Frye and Lara Johnson*

As Pat sat in the audience, Lara told how their efforts paid off. Lara became a doctor. The reason? After going to various doctor appointments with her parents, she felt if she became a doctor, she might be able to help them in some way. Later in life her dad was diagnosed with HIV and passed away. Her mother recently died and wanted forgiveness before she passed. Lara said she had already forgiven her.

It was a very touching story, one that she wasn’t really planning on sharing because she is so private. But she changed her mind when an article was written about her in D Magazine after a chance conversation with a friend. Today she volunteers her medical services for the kids at JP and loves the organization. She is married with two children and likes for them to give back as well. Great Q&A!

Another highlight of the luncheon was the recognition of JP Board Chair Jennifer Norris and Meredith and Jason Cockburn, who have fostered over 50 kids through JP, and the presentation of the awards to the following:

Tonya Bailey, RAchel Stephens, Chad Dorman, Allicia Graham Frye, Beverly Childs, Al Sicard, Allison Carlisle, Mark Dehning and Mark Wilson*

Tonya Bailey, Rachel Stephens, Chad Dorman, Allicia Graham Frye, Beverly Childs, Al Sicard, Allison Carlisle, Mark Dehning and Mark Wilson*

  • Award of Compassion — Christina and Michael Benge
  • Award of Service — Nationwide Insurance
  • Award of Excellence — Dallas Association of Health Underwriters

CEO Allicia Graham Frye spoke about the children at the cottages and gave a very genuine speech about her experiences there and how the donors are helping daily at the facility. She was very appreciative of all the support the donors give. She had a picture on the screen showing the where the teenage girls spend their free time. This space had recently been renovated by donors and she wanted to share a piece of the facility with the crowd.  Currently, there are 77 children at the campus.

To celebrate this landmark year for Jonathan’s Place, the following sponsors were on board:

  • Presenting Hero Sponsor ($25,000) — ORIX Foundation
  • Platinum Champion Sponsor ($15,000) — Al G. Hill Jr.
  • Gold Protector Sponsors ($10,000) — Mohr Partners and Scopus Asset Management
  • Silver Guardian Sponsors ($5,000) — Macy’s, Allison and John Carlisle, Marianne and Roger Staubach, Rachel and Brad Stephens, Stacey and Reid Walker and Kay Sim
  • Bronze Defender SponsorsAkin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP, Beth Maultsby and Goranson Bain LLC, The Stacy and Tyler Burke Fund, Freeman Group LLC, Kline Family Foundation, The Rosewood Corporation, Wick Phillips Gould & Martin LLP, Mr. and Mrs. Scott Bagley, Barbie and Bill Borlaug, Kim Cocotos, Marcellene Malouf and the Honorable Royal Furgeson, Dr. Greta Kerwin-Kopp, Wes Lambard, Amy and Tom Mahoney, Jennifer and Bradley Norris, Mr. and Mrs. Todd Phillips, Julie and Eliot Raffkind, Katherine and Eric Reeves, Randa Roach, Nan S. White and April and John Willingham.
* Photos provided by Jonathan's Place

“Dancing With The Stars’ ” Cheryl Burke Shared Three Life Lessons At Jonathan’s Place’s A Chance To Soar Lunch

Jonathan’s Place CEO Allicia Frye had been at “Good Morning Texas” with A Chance to Soar’s keynote speaker/”Dancing With The Stars” vet Cheryl Burke earlier Tuesday, April 28. Alllicia admitted that she had been scared to death, but it went off without a hitch. Now at 10:30 a.m., Allicia was at the VIP champagne reception at Brook Hollow and glowing over the fact that more than 400 were expected. That was an increase from last year’s 380 for the Jonathan’s Place fundraiser.

Stacey Walker, Cheryl Burke and Allicia Frye

Stacey Walker, Cheryl Burke and Allicia Frye

By 10:45 there was no sign of Cheryl, but the VIP-ers didn’t seem to mind. In the ballroom there was a blue cast along with kites suspended from the ceiling.

Outside it was drizzling and the temperature was downright chilly considering that it was the end of April. Still the ladies wore their most colorful silk and cotton dressed above the knee with stilettos. A couple of gals posed for a cellphone shot.

Promptly at 11 Cheryl arrived, was directed to the far end of the room and handed a drink. She hardly had time to take a sip before people were wanting to have a photo taken with her. Despite wearing Louboutins that seemed to have 3-inch heels, she appeared tiny. Some guests were keeping their distance as she was introduced to all the Jonathan’s Place staffers. The smile never dimmed. Cellphones were pulled out.

April Willingham

April Willingham

After 10 minutes she was herded to the opposite side of the room where the crowd was thick. No sooner did she arrive than she disappeared in the mass, making photo opps difficult at best.

In the meantime Luncheon Co-Chairs April Willingham and Jennifer Steubing were making sure all was going smoothly at the check-in tables and the ballroom.

By 11:45 a second round of chimes calling guests to the ballroom for lunch were heard. While the gals appeared to know the protocol, the men in the crowd moved slowly to take their places. One VIP guest was seen leaving the reception with a flute filled with champagne in one hand and a bottle in the other. Barbara Brice was on her first outing since her right foot landed in a cast.

With every seat occupied, guests like Jonathan’s Place Board Chair Stacey Walker, Susan Campbell, Pamela Graham, Lynn Dealey, Tiffany Divis, Jill Rowlett and Karla McKenzie started lunching at noon and Hockadaisies sold raffle tickets.

Pam Busbee, Lynn Dealey, Tiffany Divis and Jill Rowlett

Pam Busbee, Lynn Dealey, Tiffany Divis and Jill Rowlett

The program kicked off at 12:15 with the presentation of awards:

  • Award of Compassion to Eliot D. Raffkind
  • Award of Service to AMLI Residential
  • Award of Excellence to Capital for Kids

At 12:31 Cheryl was introduced and kicked off her talk by recalling the time that a person told her, “You look so much prettier in person.”

Then she briefly recalled how she got started with “Dancing With The Stars,” the sudden fame and her ongoing friendship with former dance partner Emmitt Smith and his family.

After the niceties were done, the award-winning dancer and survivor of child abuse explained how just as dancing requires a plan, so does life. She had used three lessons in both dance and life:

Lesson #1 — Be willing to take chances. In 2005 her life changed due to “DWTS.” She really didn’t think the show would take. At that time she was a struggling dancer living in Harlem with her dance partner, who became abusive. It was the move to Los Angeles for the show that changed the situation. Her first “DWTS” partner Drew Lachey helped her handle the glitz and attention. He made her dance to a song that she didn’t know, but they ended up winning the competition.

Lesson #2 — Really find your passion. Having studied ballet at four, it was her mother and stepfather who introduced her to ballroom at 11. She ended up loving the rhinestones and false eyelashes. Dancing provided to therapeutic for the little girl, whose parents had separated when she was just two. It gave her a purpose. Over the years, her DWTS partners have included actors Drew Carey and Ian Ziering, politician Tom DeLay, singer Wayne Newton, reality TV stars Rob Kardashian and Jack Osbourne and, of course Emmitt, who presented her with a life-changing question: “What’s next for you, Cheryl?”

Lesson #3 — Overcome adversity. At the age of six, she told how she had been abused by her male nanny. She didn’t know what he was doing. Eventually she told her parents and testified in court at the age of 8 against the man. Throughout her life, she has confronted adversity with resounding results. For instance “DWTS” created problems that she eventually addressed realizing that she needed to meet her own needs instead of trying to please everyone else. In her personal life she finally got together with her father despite being estranged for years. She reported that she now talks with him daily.

In concluding her remarks at 12:45, she summed it up by saying, “You can either get better or bitter.”

If you missed this year’s luncheon, mark Tuesday, April 26 on your calendar now. That’s when you’ll get “a chance to soar.”

JUST IN: Dancing With The Stars Alumna Cheryl Burke To Be Keynote Speaker At “A Chance To Soar” Luncheon

Cheryl Burke*

Cheryl Burke*

A Chance To Soar Luncheon Co-Chairs Jennifer Steubing and April Willingham just sent word that they’re dancing with joy! Or rather, they’re dancing with a star.

Yup, for the annual Jonathan’s Place fundraiser, the ladies have arranged to have former Dancing With The Stars dynamo Cheryl Burke as their keynote speaker on Tuesday, April 28, at Brook Hollow.

Why the lady who has collected two DWTS mirrored balls? Sure, she’s danced with such celebrity partners as Drew Lachey, Emmitt Smith, Ian Ziering, Wayne Newton, Cristian de la Fuente, Maurice Greene, Gilles Marini, Tom DeLay, Chad Ochocinco, Rick Fox, Chris Jericho, Rob Kardasian, William Levy, D.L. Hughley, Jack Osbourne, Drew Carey and Antonio Sabato Jr., but what does that have to do with the child abuse issues being handled by Jonathan’s Place? Because like Jonathan’s Place clients…that’s the wrong word… children, Cheryl was abused as a youngster.

While perfect on the dance floor, her book — “Dancing Lessons” — revealed “painful childhood abuse by a family friend and overcoming to become a dancing champion.”

According to Jonathan’s Place CEO Allicia Graham Frye, “We are so excited Cheryl has graciously agreed to come speak at our luncheon. Her smile is infectious, her speaking is engaging and her story is powerful.”

Presented for a second year in a row by Mohr Partners, Jonathan’s Place is “the only emergency shelter in Dallas County for abused children from newborn to 17 years old.” Last year, Jonathan’s Place “helped 11,105 children through its emergency shelter, girls residential treatment, foster care and adoption programs, and runaway prevention partnership with National Safe Place.”

* Photo provided by Jonathan's Place

Jonathan’s Place’s “A Chance To Soar” Flew High With Nia Vardalos And DeMarcus Ware

Things were popping at the Jonathan’s Place’s “A Chance To Soar” luncheon fundraiser on Tuesday, April 29, at Brook Hollow. Yes, there were kites hovering overhead and on tables in the ballroom, but the activity at ground level was pretty darn impressive. It should have been, since the ballroom was filled to capacity.

DeMarcus Ware

DeMarcus Ware

Before the program got underway, it was obvious that there was a Dallas Cowboys influence. Perhaps it was because former Cowboy DeMarcus Ware was to be honored for his support of the program. It was back in 2008 that DeMarcus and his former wife adopted Marley after three failed pregnancies. DeMarcus had been involved with Jonathan’s Place since 2006, but it was in 2010 that he increased his involvement with the organization that “provides a safe, loving home and specialized services to children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected.”

Allicia Frye, Royce West, Bradie James, Nia Vardalos and DeMarcus Ware

Allicia Frye, Royce West, Bradie James, Nia Vardalos and DeMarcus Ware

Despite his being signed in March to play for the Denver Broncos, DeMarcus is still a Dallas favorite among fans and players. Why, his former teammate Bradie James even attended the luncheon because as presenting sponsor Mohr Partners Bob Mohr quoted Bradie, “I have his [DeMarcus’] back.”

(Little did anyone know that Bradie one week later would sign a one-day contract with the Dallas Cowboys, so the 33-year-old linebacker could retire as a Cowboy.)

Even the front-row-center table was Cowboy-ish with Platinum Underwriters Marianne and Roger Staubach.

Pam Busbee

Pam Busbee

Stephanie Phillps

Stephanie Phillps

Event Co-Chairs Pam Busbee and Stephanie Phillips even managed to have former Dallas Cowboys spiritual guide Dr. John Tolson provide the invocation.

Following lunch (mesclun greens topped with spicy pecan chicken breast, dried cherries and apricots and balsamic dressing; toasted ciabatta bread with goat cheese and cheesecake flan) and a welcome by Jonathan’s Place CEO Allicia Frye, it was time for keynote speaker Nia Vardalos to take over.

Like DeMarcus, her life had been changed dramatically thanks to the adoption of a child. But before she told about her years of frustration in trying to give birth and additional years of waiting for the opportunity to adopt a child of neglect, she shared stories about her family and the days and years of getting “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” produced.

It was obvious that immediately everyone in the room had gone Greek. Like Julia Reed and Diana Nyad, Nia had the ability to make a love connection with everyone in the room thanks to humorous tales and heart-wrenching memories of adopting her daughter Ilaria in 2008, the same year that Marley entered DeMarcus’s life. But unlike DeMarcus’ adopting a baby, Nia’s daughter was three years old and had been living in foster care since birth.

Nia Vardalos

Nia Vardalos

She told of the slow steps that she and husband Ian Gomez took in helping their daughter adjust to a stable life. Ilaria would only sleep 20 seconds at a time, wake up, check her surroundings and then sleep another 20 seconds. A cot was placed for Nia to sleep within reach of Ilaria. The sleeping period turned into a minute, then three minutes. The child eventually learned to trust her parents and six months later the cot was slowly moved by Ilaria farther and farther away until it was finally out of the room.

She didn’t like being hugged or coddled, so the trio went through a process called “baking”, where they would pretend to break an egg over their dog and massage pretend sugar and flour over him. By doing this, their fingers would naturally interact. Then they would roll him across the bed into the pretend oven and when “he came out,” we would kiss him as a way of eating him. “He, of course, loved it.” Then they “baked” mommy, so she would have the same type of non-threatening interaction and feel in control of the situation. Eventually, they progressed to “baking” Ilaria. “Within three weeks, she was walking up to us on a whim and kissing us. Within three months, she was sitting in our laps. And within six months, she started pre-school.”

Nia Vardalos

Nia Vardalos

Ah, but then came the “pre-school call, you know when the phone rings and your hair goes white.” The teacher said, “I’m not sure if this would bother you to know, but your daughter asked all the kids to gather all the babies today and bake them.”

But there were also the giggle moments of the two adults learning to be parents. For instance, when they learned that Ilaria was theirs and arriving in hours, Ian went to the grocery and returned with a teething ring and a steak.

As Nia recalled that first night when Ilaria started crying, “My job was to make her safe, and I didn’t know how. So guess what happened? The next day my Mom came. My Mom arrived with a suitcase of the typical grandma wear — you know, three shirts and two pairs of pants, and the other suitcase was filled with food. I asked her how she had time to bake all of this. She said, ‘Last night!’ And then everything got better. I had been chasing my daughter around with food trying to get her eat. My Mom did what every mother knows how to do — just cook. When they smell it, they’ll eat it. ”

If you weren’t able to attend the luncheon, you can read about Nia’s motherhood in her book “Instant Mom.” And by the way, all proceeds of the books will benefit organizations like Jonathan’s Place.