Angie Nelson | Photo provided
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:14AM
The upscale gala had all the essential offerings to ensure a successful fundraiser.
A great cause, welcoming hosts, cheerful volunteers, a cocktail hour, delicious dinner, live auction, silent auction and creative theme — “An Evening with the Stars,” which invited guests to dress as their favorite celebrity. To welcome guests, a red carpet was smartly rolled out at the entrance of the Pottawattomie Country Club in Michigan City.
“Hello, I’m Carol,” said a greeter dressed as Carol Burnett in her famous “Went with the Wind” outfit, a set of lavish drapes held up by a curtain rod. “Carol” even pulled on her ear while posing for photos with amused guests. Nice touch, I told her.
Inside the swanky country club, I immediately noticed several familiar faces and notable names from other fundraisers across Northwest Indiana, including state Sen. Karen Tallian, Rick Soria, vice chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College, and the always affable Scott Fech.
The top-notch event was hosted by Dunebrook Inc., formerly known as the LaPorte County Child Abuse Prevention Council, a Michigan City-based not-for-profit organization with offices in Valparaiso and Winamac.
On this night, its new executive director would be publicly revealed, in addition to thanking all the region agencies, companies and volunteers who support Dunebrook’s mission: Advocating for children and positive family support in conjunction with faith-based partners, child service groups, and government agencies.
In other words, an ideal recipient for a fundraiser.
All proceeds went toward the organization’s community-based programs, such as parenting education, visits to schools, libraries or churches, and my favorite program, Parents as Teachers, reminding parents that they are their children’s first and best teacher.
You would think this simple, even primal concept would be so commonplace that a nationally recognized program isn’t needed to remind young parents. You’d think wrong. Every day, dozens of potential teachable moments take place in young children’s lives but too many parents are not aware of them.
Another kind of teachable moment took place at this fundraiser, thanks to a woman who was honored with the Lester Radke Community Service Award. Radke, warmly called the “Patriarch of Dunebrook,” is the consummate community activist, “a caring, selfless and generous spirit,” according to the agency’s directors.
The woman’s name is Angie Nelson of Michigan City, who surprisingly has never before won an award despite all her notable efforts. Her job is the public affairs manager for NIPSCO, but her life’s mission is to help others in her community. One pays the monthly bills, the other pays her daily gratitude.
She serves on more boards single-handedly, including the United Way, Red Cross and Michigan City Chamber of Commerce, than most board of directors do collectively.
Plus, Nelson took it upon herself to help counsel the family of the young boy who was buried by Mount Baldy this past summer. During the emergency search and rescue mission, she sat and prayed with his family. Once again, she put action into the word activist.
“She’s a true role model,” said Amber Lapaich-Stalbrink, a Dunebrook board member, during her introduction of Nelson.
Nelson sat at a nearby table, accompanied by her mother, one of her daughters, Sydney, and her fiancé, Jeff Deuitch. After accepting her award, she spoke from the heart while stealing the show without even trying.
“You never have anything if you’re not serving your community,” she told guests without a hint of appearing didactic. “You’re supposed to do that but people forget this.”
Nelson has done exactly this all her life, even while raising two kids on her own and earning a master’s degree at Indiana University Northwest in Gary. After thanking Dunebrook’s officials for the esteemed award, Nelson asked her mother to join her at the podium. She felt compelled to publicly laud her mother for attending college at an older age and earning her own bachelor’s degree.
“But she needs a job,” Nelson told guests, who erupted in laughter.
Her mother, who raised her seven children with education as a number-one priority, downplayed her daughter’s public job request. She just shook her head and hugged Nelson, who earlier received a bouquet of flowers from her daughter.
It’s these heartfelt, candid and unscripted moments that often make an otherwise ordinary fundraiser a bit extraordinary, I’ve learned through the years. Oh sure, the hoity-toity surroundings are great and mingling with all the well-heeled swells can be entertaining. But it’s these real moments of, well, genuine humanity that best illustrate any nonprofit’s value.
“You see why I am so thrilled to be in my new role,” Gail Johnson, Dunebrook’s freshly announced executive director, told me later. “I am part of a fantastic team.”
Each table in the room was adorned with a colorful centerpiece, sprinkled with decorative stars to accentuate the event’s celebrity-minded theme. The real stars, however, were all the faceless workers and volunteers who made that fundraiser come to life. For instance, Pamela Henderson, John Owsley and Lena Ritchie.
Also, all the guests who dug deep into their pockets, and into their conscience, to support a great cause.
For example, the Michigan City Exchange Club that donated a $1,000 check on the spot. Or a man at my table named Chuck who enthusiastically rallied others to join in the live auction.
“It’s money well spent,” he said after winning his bid in the silent auction.
With the fundraising gala season now upon us again, this is precisely the response you want not only from guests, but also from the community as a whole. Otherwise, it’s just another posh party that serves no purpose in the community, a wasteful and self-indulgent travesty to the Angie Nelsons of our region.
Connect with Jerry via email, at email@example.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.