Despite Stormy Weather, The Wilkinson Center’s Can Do! Luncheon Was Bright And...

MAY 31, 2013 3:30 PM BY JEANNE PREJEAN Published By: My Sweet Charity

Despite the threat of tornadoes, hail and the end of the world, The Wilkinson Center’s troops rallied on Tuesday, May 21, at the Dallas Country Club for the first Can Do luncheon.

While guests were pulling up to the club at 10:30, a tornado watch had just been issued. Sure, there were storm clouds in the vicinity, a stillness in the air and an uneasiness lingering from the devastation that hit Moore, Oklahoma, the day before.

And yet, once inside the club, the focus seamlessly shifted from weather threats to Wilkinson accomplishments. Missing a sell-out by just a table or two was quickly forgotten when it was learned that Mr. and Mrs. Anonymous had kicked in $25,000 to the day’s efforts. Why, they even had cookbooks from Highland Park Methodist Church for sale that were adding to the coffers!

Ruth-Altshuler-and-Jim-FrancisWhen the door to the ballroom opened at 11:30, it was obvious that the Wilkinson Center had hundreds of pretty outstanding friends like Debbie and Jim Francis, Ruth Altshuler, Jane Pierce, Carol Goglia, Sarah Losinger, Brett and Sue Ringle, Brent Christopher, Craig Innes, Jan and Fred Hegi and Kate Rose Marquez.

Having been a part of the Wilkinson effort since its start, Luncheon Chair Joan Eleazer told guests that the day’s goal had been to raise $100,000 and they were at $96,455. She then suggested they could help reach that six-figure mark by making donations in envelopes conveniently left on tables and/or by purchasing centerpieces or the cookbooks. As pens were being pulled out and envelopes filled, a video explaining all that Wilkinson does was shown.

Anne-ReederWilkinson Center’s Executive Director Anne Reeder thanked all for supporting this “first-time effort” and then she recognized a friend “who really loves” her — Joan. The test was when Anne told Joan, “I know it’s your busiest time of the year, but could you please chair a brand-new event for me?” When Joan asked, “When is it?” Anne responded, “Three months.” With that a chuckle from those who had organized fundraisers rumbled through the room, followed by applause.

Then without further ado, Anne explained what the “Can Do” theme was all about. Simply put, “All of us that work in the world of non-profits or any of us that care about non-profits know that Dallas is filled with wonderful, generous philanthropists and they are the lifeblood of every non-profit in Dallas. There are some philanthropists, though, that add something really unique. Their intellect, their inspiration, their insight. They don’t just want you to be better. They help you to see new and exciting ways to be better. And that’s what I call entrepreneurship. Today we’re here to celebrate entrepreneurship in philanthropy. And our first award recipients are the McStays.”

MG_3965-John-and-Ellen-McStay-1As Ellen and John McStay sat at their table, a video was shown on two mammoth screens in the corners of the room.

The couple were presented two large cans that had a resemblance to a certain brand of soup can. John’s acceptance was brief and to the point encouraging others to support Wilkinson’s efforts. As they returned to their table, their grandson Cash McStay checked out the award.

The next recipient was Highland Park United Methodist Church. Anne admitted that without HPUMC’s support, the Wilkinson Center “wouldn’t be here today.”

Before a video was shown about HPUMC, Anne revealed that the church had committed $1M to “wiping out hunger in our community this year,” and “we just found out that they have committed $100,000 to Wilkinson Center food pantry to update and renovate the food pantry.” Anne smiled like a school girl that food pantry director Steve Thompson’s and her wish list would become reality, especially the 8’ by 8’ freezer. And here most girls want little blue boxes with white ribbons!

Accepting the award, HPUMC’s new senior minister Rev. Paul Rasmussen talked eloquently and proved why he was chosen. He blended sincerity and humor — “We’re a lot better at giving awards than receiving awards.”

He recalled the previous HPUMC ministers and others whose goal had been to leave the city of Dallas better. Then he turned to the McStays, saying that they “demonstrate every single day that you can make a profit without sacrificing the higher calling of making a difference.”

He spotted Ruth Altshuler in the audience and recalled that while attending a philanthropic luncheon he pointed Ruth out to his wife Ashley, who said, “I’ve never been to one of these events where she wasn’t present.” Applause swept through the room, but Paul had the last word. “Ashley looked at him and said either she’s very generous or she’s stalking you.” The applause was replaced with laughter.


The final award was presented by Wilkinson Center Assistant Program Director Brandy Freeman to the Hartfield siblings (Jazmine, Johnathan, Johnnie and Joselyn) for overcoming obstacles to achieve their dreams. The foursome represented a success story that inspires the Wilkinson Center staff and supporters. They sought the tools from the Wilkinson Center to get their GEDs, volunteered and created further goals for themselves. At one point in responding to Johnathan’s dream of getting into real estate, Brandy said, “That’s perfect for him because he can sell a blind man sunglasses.”

Family spokesperson Johnathan’s acceptance was brief —“Thank you. I really didn’t plan anything, so I just want to say ‘Thank you all for this great award.’ It is a great honor and I pray that God blesses all of you for what you have done for us and may you reach out to bless others as you have blessed us. God bless you and thank you for this award.”


As if that wasn’t enough to end the luncheon, Angela Gaddis “sang them out.” Within a few bars, all the guests were on their feet clapping along with her singing.

For a first-time luncheon, it raised the spirits, awareness and funds for the Wilkinson Center.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, those envelopes, centerpieces and cookbooks paid off. The take for the day was $100,315.