On the ground floor of the strikingly modern Hunt Consolidated building in downtown Dallas, the movers and shakers were out in force on the evening of Thursday, November 8. They’d gathered for New Friends New Life‘s 20th Anniversary Platinum Dinner, an important occasion for a consequential group of top sponsors—and an event that turned out to be leavened with some unexpected humor.
After enjoying drinks and hors d’oeuvres at the ground-floor reception, the 200 or so guests including Sheila and Jody Grant, Nancy Ann and Ray Hunt, Keana and Morgan Meyer, Wendy and Boyd Messmann, Marybeth and Kevin Conlon, Gail and R. Gerald Turner, Bill Minick, Pat and Pete Schenkel, Jeanne Phillips and Ashlee and Chris Kleinert zipped upstairs via elevator to find their dinner tables waiting.
Soon enough Chris took to a raised stage to welcome everyone to the gathering, which was a sort of prelude to the next day’s New Friends New Life annual luncheon, where actress Uma Thurman was scheduled to speak to about 1,000 guests. Uma would be addressing the mission of New Friends New Life: restoring and empowering formerly trafficked and sexually exploited girls, women, and children.
While the Platinum Dinner guests tucked into their meals—butter lettuce salad, herb-crusted beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes and vegetables, and a salted caramel chocolate tart—Chris recognized the nonprofit organization’s Men’s Advocacy Group. Then it was time for New Friends New Life CEO Kim Robinson to take center stage. Kim gave a shout-out to Luncheon Honorary Co-Chairs Mike and Marla Boone —the Boones couldn’t attend, unfortunately—and to Luncheon Co-Chairs Connie Kleinert Babikian, McCall Cravens and Jill Meyer. With that, a video tribute was shown honoring Gail, Pat, and Nancy Ann, who’d founded New Friends New Life back in 1998.
In a little while a waiter with a foreign accent took the mic and announced grandly that a woman had left her handbag in the lavoratory. A few minutes later, he returned with a second announcement about the bag and, before long, people began realizing they were hearing a comedy bit. Eventually the waiter—and then another, and then a third—broke into song (“That’s Amore,” “Tonight”). The waiters ran about the room teasing each other, and the dinner guests roared with laughter. Concluded one member of “The Singing Waiters” act: “I thank you from the heart of my bottom.”
At that a harpist struck up a chord to calm the mood, and it was time for Kim and Bianca Jackson, New Friends’ chief development officer, to present the organization’s 2018 ProtectHER Awards in four categories: Local, State, National, and International.
The first award went to The Dallas Morning News for supporting the fight against human and sex trafficking in North Texas. Brendan Miniter, editor of editorials for the paper, accepted the honor for the DMN, saying, “it’s important to stand shoulder to shoulder with everybody in this room.” The second award was given to Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Margaret Bassett accepted for the research and education group.
The third award went to Becca Stevens, founder and president of Nashville’s Thistle Farms. Becca couldn’t attend, so Thistle’s Regina Mullins accepted on her behalf. “Can I be me?” Regina asked the crowd rhetorically. “Someone stood up for me years ago after I got out of prison, and I have 22 years ‘clean’ today. Thank you for standing up for the women of Dallas.” The evening’s final ProtectHER award was presented to Victor Boutros, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Human Trafficking Institute. The institute aims to end trafficking by working with police and prosecutors inside the criminal justice system.
To cap the evening, New Friends New Life Community Engagement Director Bill Morse gave one final shout-out—to Chris Kleinert, “a man who was willing to go where no man had gone before.” Chris, the founding and outgoing chair of the Men’s Advocacy Group, accepted the recognition graciously. Then everyone adjourned.
* Photo credit: Chemenn Chugg