The sparkling red sequins and crown of spindly feathers moved gracefully with the long-limbed Vegas showgirl around supporters of the Mount Vernon area social services organization United Community Ministries as they play-gambled and silently bid on auction items at the casino-themed Friends of UCM 2016 Spring Gala.
Volunteers Colleen Haddow, Meg Galanty and Donna Jarvis-Miller were co-chairs of the gala. Haddow said the casino theme for this year was chosen for “fun.” “I love Las Vegas, lots of great Vegas trips.”
The Friends of UCM divide their fundraising efforts between the gala and a Capitol Steps show each fall. The performance last November brought in $92,000.
The co-chairs expected close to 300 guests to fill up that area of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, the third year the gala has been held at this location. With the strong attendance, the ladies’ fundraising goal for the evening was $200,000. As of April 4, they’d reached $185,000.
“The space really makes it a first class event,” said Friends of UCM Board member Jim Seeley. “UCM is so many parts. We have furniture at the UCM store, early learning programs, job training, Dress for Success workshops, a lot of different synergy. The Recession may be over, but our demand is even greater. It’s a busy, exciting time for us.”
“We greatly appreciate all these people who came out to support us,” said UCM Executive Director Nichelle Mitchem. “The 2015 Fairfax County Equitable Growth Profile showed the need for human services, the growing number of people in poverty, projected through 2040. They need job training, English as a Second Language class, all things UCM provides. It reminds us our services are critical, now and in the future, to enhance people’s, including foreign-born, capability to earn living wages.”
Some of the Vegas-specific items up for the night’s silent auction fundraiser included packages donated by resort hotels in the storied Nevada city, including The Ritz-Carlton, as well as artwork, sports tickets, jewelry, home and garden products, and golf and dinner packages.
Supervisor Dan Storck (D-Mount Vernon) called UCM’s impact “huge,” adding that they’re the “fundamental social services organization in Mount Vernon-Lee community, and are a key model for a lot of other critical organizations in the community and the county. They’ve had great leadership, great board and staff.”
Storck said UCM is being considered as well as several Mount Vernon non-profits as potential tenants to fill the old Mount Vernon High School. The supervisor said staff is putting together an impact task force, but that the fit “to me is natural.”
Mitchem said the space the building could offer UCM is “ideal,” as is the concept of putting multiple nonprofits under one roof. It would be “a one-stop shop to address needs,” she said.
Following the silent auction and play-gambling, UCM supporters shifted to the ballroom-dining room for dinner and remarks. In years past, the program has featured a video of clients who’ve benefitted from UCM services. This year for the first time, they brought live clients to share personal testimony.
“They really talk from the heart about the impact,” co-chair Jarvis-Miller said. “They’re the best advocates for getting people to open their purse strings and their wallets.”
High School sophomore from the Mount Vernon area Deneisha Walton spoke about her experience beginning to visit the Creekside Village program of UCM.
“When I walked into the community center I didn’t know what to expect,” Walton said. “I wasn’t making the best decisions for myself nor was I on the right track. What I ended up finding was an opportunity to meet different people, kids in my age group that had the same goals and aspire to be better each and every day. Coming to the center every day taught me to have a better outlook on things, my self respect and most importantly to believe in myself, to be my own star in the story of my life.”
After the speakers came a reverse auction, another opportunity to raise funds for UCM. “They get the feeling how much the money makes a difference,” Jarvis-Miller said. “$50 may not seem like a lot, but that’s feeding a client for a month” with UCM’s food bank.