JUN 2, 2014 9:30 AM BY JEANNE PREJEAN Published By: My Sweet Charity
Last year Wilkinson Center Executive Director Anne Reeder faced a tornado warning the morning of the Center’s inaugural Can Do! Luncheon. She was fearful that the threatening weather would dissuade folks from attending the fundraiser at the Dallas Country Club. No such luck!
On Tuesday, May 13, she looked relieved that the torrential rains that hit the North Texas area had taken place 24 hours beforehand.
It was a tight timeline that Event Chair Christie Carter had planned. Starting at 11:30 a.m. with “greeting and blessing,” she promised to have the closing would take place at 12:50 p.m. Not 1 p.m., not 1:30 p.m., but 12:50 p.m. Did she pull it off? Stay tuned.
The DCC ballroom was filled to the max for the sold-out event. They couldn’t have even fit a card table in. Anne confessed that club staffers had recommended a couple of “dummy tables,” but the rec was blown away as seats filled with the likes of last year’s Can Do! Recipients Ellen and John McStay, Rachel Michell, Lisa Longino, Lydia Novakov, Caren Kline, Tiffany Divis, Paige McDaniel, Carol Seay, Leslie and Bryan Diers, Katherine Coker, Linda Secrest, Lynn McBee, Nancy Bierman, Can Do! Patron party hosts Milagros and Horacio Moros and Wilkinson Center Board of Directors Melanie Myers.
Diane McNulty was still receiving congrats about the recent Artistic Impressions of Management showcasing the relationship between art and business to benefit the Naveen Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas. The one-night gala transformed the school’s first floor into an art gallery. One of the highlights of the show was “The Glamour Age of Flights” focusing on “a look back at iconic Braniff International Airlines photographs and posters.”
The accessory du jour was the shawl. After all the temps were in the 60’s outside providing just enough chill that those spring silk and cotton outfits needed a little shoulder warmth.
Despite a couple of minor lighting challenges in the ballroom, the event went off without a hitch. It’s hard to imagine that it ran as tightly as a Swiss clock but this one did.
Anne gave a brief welcome recalling her recent hip surgery and the cards received from Wilkinson Center kiddos. One of the children sent a note — Hip, Hip Hurray. Another said she hoped Anne survived her surgery because she deserved to enjoy a happy life.
That last mention created a rallying point for Anne as she described people with whom the Wilkinson Center encounters who do not have happy lives — a hungry three-year, who started shivering and crying when he saw the shelves of food at the center; the woman who just needed a pair of shoes, an ID and a bus pass for her first day as a McDonald’s employee; the 12-year-employee who was let go because her employer discovered she was illiterate; or a little girl who is too tired in school, because her parents’ fighting every night keeps her awake.
As Anne summed it up, “These are the people that we meet every day at Wilkinson Center. And these are the stories we hear. Our job and our mission is to transform the lives of these families and to create pathways for them to self-sufficiency always with dignity and respect. Our job is to create a situation, so they can have happy lives themselves. But we need your help and by being here today, you are helping us.”
Moving along efficiently without losing the impact, the program then presented the first Can Do! Award to Anne and Terry Conner following a video.
Terry took the opportunity to emphasize that “breaking the cycle of poverty begins with education.” He pointed out that before DISD expanded its free-lunch program last year, it was based on household income and low-household income was required to qualify for subsidized lunches. “Last year about 89% of DISD kids qualified. . . . only about 8%, excluding magnet school graduates, of the kids graduate ready for college in DISD.” He encouraged the participation in the after-school and summer programs.
Anne, who has been associated with Wilkinson for 15 years, said that the “Wilkinson Center represents the very best of charity in our community. Helping those who need help the most day in, day out and fulfilling its mission with commitment and compassion.”
Next up was the Women of St. Michael’s Exchange that has contributed $7.8M to the community since its founding in 1958. As Robbie Briggs sat smiling proudly, the video told of how the Exchange in Highland Park Village had originally been operated by the Junior League of Dallas. About 55 years ago, the Women of St. Michael bought the shop from the JLD. There was a big discussion about the purchase and it was put up for a vote. The results were 50-for and 50-against. The president had to cast the deciding vote to take on the Exchange. That president was Robbie’s mom Rosemary Briggs.
Women of St. Michael President Jan Baldwin was joined on stage by Sylvia Hood and Kathy Kelley in accepting the award. Then St. Michael and All Angels Rev. Dr. Bob Dannals hopped up on stage and told how proud he was to be associated with such a fine group of women.
The final award was presented to Alphonso Brooks, who was in a tomato-red T-shirt and slacks. The military vet, who was in his first year of college, apologized for his appearance, but explained that he had pulled an all-nighter in preparation for his finals. No apologies needed. His story with the Wilkinson Center was a great closer. Thanks to the Center, he had not only been able to achieve his GED, he had was now attending Cedar Valley College full time. But his studies hadn’t kept him from repaying Wilkinson. He still “visits Wilkinson Center one to two times per month to thank staff for the services and assistance he has received.” According to Alphonso, “I couldn’t have done this without Wilkinson Center. The help they provided allowed me to attend college. They have done more for me than any other agency or organization.”
To end the event, St. Michael choir members Kristen and Alex Bumpas sang the benediction. And the lunch ended at 12:48 p.m.