A gala to remember

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There’s no place like home, and on the evening of November 10, there was no place like A Night of a Million Dreams, Better Together’s signature fundraising gala.

Befitting the Wizard of Oz theme, supporters arrived via a stroll down a yellow brick road accompanied by little Dorothy, The Cowardly Lion, The Tinman and Glinda the Good Witch of the South, two in fact. The costumed children helped our guests safely through the poppies to the event beyond, which included a cocktail hour, live and silent auction items, dinner, live music by The Markleys, and a beautiful performance by Broadway star Kerry Ellis (Elphaba in the West End and Broadway productions of the musical “Wicked”).

Ms. Ellis graciously spoke with us before the event at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Bonita Springs and mingled with supporters and staff afterward.

“You are making such a big difference, and I think it’s fantastic,” Kerry Ellis said. “I feel very humbled to be here and do my part and sing.”

Many of our host families were in attendance, like Meg and Christopher Dorrill, who have hosted three times in the past year.

“We have the space and the love to offer them, and so that’s really what it comes down to,” Meg Dorrill said when we asked why the couple say yes to Better Together.

During the event, attendees heard from Jenifer Cabrera and Jenn Downes. The Downes family hosted Jenifer’s son Jayden while she worked to overcome a crisis. Ms. Cabrera, who is now a strong role model for her son, shared her story and her success. She earned her Emergency Medical Technician certification and a degree in fire science. Today, she is building a career in the fire department with a continued support system in place. Then Jenn Downes took the stage and shared her story, how beautiful it was to be a host mom to Jayden, but also how last fall Hurricane Ian destroyed her home and displaced her family for 158 days. Better Together was one of the first to call to see how we could help. She credited the nonprofit with saving her family’s Christmas.

Better Together also gained supporters at the gala. Franceslynn and Nathan Lowmaster said they knew next to nothing about Better Together when a friend invited them. Then at the fundraiser, they heard families tell their stories and they spoke with team members. “They act as a family,” Franceslynn Lowmaster said after the event. The couple ended up supporting the organization and plan to get involved further. “We will love to get plugged in for sure.”

The event was presented by Gaea Landscaping as The Emerald City Champion sponsor. Owner Peter Rivera spoke before the crowd as well. Twenty-two years ago, he said, he could not have imagined being able to help in this way. When he shared his most treasured advice — an emotional plea to “Be the person you needed when you were younger” — the room went silent then errupted in applause. In addition to supporting as a sponsor, when the auctioneer requested bids of pure donation, Mr. Rivera was the first to raise his paddle. He pledged $50,000.

In all, the gala raised $569,896 to support our mission to strengthen families through community and work.

“The community’s support is crucial in our efforts to address the root causes of child neglect and help families navigate the difficulties and challenges that come with life and parenting,” said Megan Rose, CEO of Better Together. “Our goal is to end the foster care crisis in Florida, and we are so thankful for all who contributed to furthering our mission. We are all better together, and together we can help our neighbors find their way home.”

The event was chaired by Dr. Alise and David Bartley.

Additional sponsors included DeAngelis Diamond, LeeCorp Homes and Wilson & Johnson as Lion’s Heart of Gold sponsors; First Horizon Bank, HBK CPAs and Consultants, Omni Financial Services, Priority Marketing, Southern Living Contractors, Southern Oak Wealth Management and TaxSavers as Ruby Slipper sponsors; Florida Gulf Coast University, Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP, Mutual Trust Advisory Group, Tommy Bohanon Foundation and Lee County Sheriff’s Office as Yellow Brick Road sponsors. Other sponsors included Batey Westerlund Real Estate Team, Boatman Ricci, Maughan Himschoot & Associates Law Group, Potter Homes, Priority Business Solutions, Pulte Homes, Roof Right and The Simonelli Real Estate Group. Gulfshore Life was the media sponsor.

If you would like to get involved with Better Together as volunteer, reach out to us through this short form: bettertogetherus.org/better-families/volunteer/learn-more

To donate: bettertogetherus.org/donations/personal-donation

Photos from the event by Luis Navarrete of LionStar Photography:

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