Emerging from a couple of years of North Texas fundraising hibernation, many have been admitting it’s been tough getting back into the swing of things. Luckily, Wilkinson Center’s 10th Anniversary Can Do! Luncheon on Monday, April 4, at the Dallas Country Club eased the transition and perhaps set a new game plan for others to follow.
While luncheon fundraisers in years gone by had had a tendency to stretch for more than three hours, the 2022 Can Do! Luncheon’s recipe was crisp, fulfilling and refreshing with a touch of spice, thanks to a couple of unscripted mischievous comments from the emcee. Without cutting short the achievements of the day’s awardees, the event had many checking their watches and wondering, “It’s only 12:55!” as they headed on their way.
How did it happen? What were the comments that raised eyebrows and chuckles? Well, the first sign was the day’s registration. The check-in was scheduled to start at 11 a.m. By 11:05, the lobby outside the ballroom was jammed shoulder-to-shoulder for the Wilkinson Center fundraiser. After two years of scrambling to keep its food pantry available for its clients and adjusting to virtual classes for students who were high-tech challenged, the day was a celebration for accomplishing what had seemed impossible.
Inside the ballroom, Luncheon Chair Nelda Cain Pickens was going over her notes, while her sister Nancy Cain Marcus was putting place cards at the head table with Honorary Chair Margot Perot at the head of the table.
At 11:15 the doors to the ballroom opened and the room filled to what seemed like capacity with Karen Weaver, Kristen Gibbins, Carol and Don Glendenning, Layne Pitzer and her mom Joan Eleazer, Beth Thoele and Emilynn Wilson. There was barely room for the 8-foot production table.
Just 15 minutes later the program got underway with emcee Tim Cowlishaw admitting that when he accepted the role he didn’t know it might include a slap from the audience. Instead of a slap, he received laughter from the guests. But he wasn’t finished. In explaining that the centerpieces were available for a $20 donation, he added that he was personally taking up donations for the Jones family legal fees. The response? Raised eyebrows, “oohs” and chuckles throughout the room, but still no one accosted Tim.
After Nelda told of the start of the Center 40 years ago and thanked key people including Margot and the past luncheon chairs, she invited Highland Park United Methodist Church Rev. Paul Rasmussen to the stage for the invocation.
Arriving at the podium, Paul appeared to be jotting down some notes. He apologized for the delay saying that he was adding Tim to his prayer list. More laughter before the prayer got underway.
When Tim returned to the podium, he thanked Paul for the support and invited the guests to enjoy their meal saying that the program would get underway at noon.
Almost on the dot the program began with Wilkinson Center Executive Director Anne Reeder telling how the Can Do! Luncheon was born out of the idea of entrepreneurship.
Following Anne were videos providing the background of each of the day’s awards including:
- Liza Collins and Rachel Stephens, who were inspired by the late Ruth Altshuler to start a food drive with their kids;
- Texas Mutual Insurance, which stepped up to help the Wilkinson Center keep providing food for the needy, and also removed restrictions from its grant to keep the non-profit’s adult education classes going;
- Former Wilkinson Center client Ana Ramirez, whose dedication and hard work continued through the pandemic and helped her not only achieve her goal of earning her GED but also completing the Patient Care Technician program and recently being promoted to a supervisory role at UT Southwestern. As Ana received her award, the audience stood to applaud her accomplishments.
- “The Guthrie Kids: Felix, Joseph and Judith” were awarded the Kids Can Too! Award for their food drive that started when oldest child Joseph entered a new pre-school with his birthday coming up. Instead of gifts, mother and son decided to ask classmates to bring jars of peanut butter that would be provided for others. For more than ten years all three Guthrie children have continued the tradition.
Following the presentation, Dallas Caulkins, Gene Olvera and Karie Scheetz performed “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art.”
In closing, Nelda, whom Anne had earlier described as a philanthropic spitfire, emphasized the importance of supporting the Center, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, in its endeavors to help the community.