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GRACE Celebrates a Decade of Gala Fundraising
With the population of North Texas booming — new developments seem to go up every day and highways are continuously being overhauled — it’s hard to think back to a time when the population of Grapevine was only 16,000. Even then, there were people in need of support. Organized in 1987, the Grapevine Relief and Community Exchange (GRACE) began as a network of churches helping Grapevine residents who were experiencing crises in their lives. Today, as the population continues to grow, so too does the need for emergency assistance, transitional housing and quality healthcare for more than 110,000 people who call Northeast Tarrant County home.
As expenses continue to rise, the community is grateful for the foresight of many supporters who set the wheels of the GRACE Gala in motion. Conceived 10 years ago, GRACE’s annual black-tie affair, Angels Among Us, has become the organization’s single largest source of funding, to the tune of more than $2 million. The gala is more than just the North Texas social event of the season — it’s a night to celebrate working together to help others in our communities and to raise money so GRACE can continue helping those in crisis.
When the gala began in 2004, Laura Newton and Leigh Wambsganss blazed a trail as the first-ever gala committee chairs. The inaugural event was held at the Hilton DFW Lakes where, due to size constraints, attendance was limited to 400 people. The first committee made the event something everyone would enjoy, remember and continue attending for years to come.
“These ladies, along with leadership from the past Board President Gary Bowker and Executive Director Tricia Wood, knew that people would want to continue attending future galas if they set the stage by making it one of the best social events in North Texas,” says Shonda Schaefer, GRACE’s executive director. Over the years, the event has featured a Texas-sized Eiffel Tower as well as a Gala Under the Stars theme. After chairing the first gala, Newton tragically passed away, leaving a void in the hearts of many within the GRACE family.
“After Laura passed, I co-chaired the second gala, and I was personally blessed beyond words to see the overwhelming response of the community to support our efforts,” says Cyndi Miller, a 2005 co-chair. “Tammy [Nakamura] and I stepped up after the loss of Laura — the year was very special and at times painful for all of us. We dedicated the gala to Laura, and of course, it became a banner year for GRACE given the gala's huge success. Our committee felt the sweet presence of Laura through every facet of the gala; she was our angel among us.”
Thanks to the efforts of these early volunteers, the evening has always featured great people, delicious food and drinks, amazing auctions and the best live entertainment in the surrounding area.
“The gala is a great way to introduce friends to all that GRACE does throughout our community,” says Annie Zvonecek, a 2008 co-chair. “Beyond attending the gala, my husband Brian and I encourage others to tour the GRACE facilities and see all the good work that is done. It is truly eye-opening to see the efforts and how great the need is so close to home.”
For gala attendees, the highlight of the night is seeing the Angel of GRACE award given to a person or organization that exemplifies GRACE’s mission of stewardship, compassion and guidance toward self-sufficiency. Awardees are honored at the gala and receive a Waterford crystal angel.
“I remember all of our Angels and their generous contributions to GRACE and our communities,” Schaefer says. “Each has marked our lives, leaving a trail of generosity and a legacy of true service.” In 2005, the Angel of GRACE award was created in memory of Newton, a true gala visionary. Subsequent recipients include Barb and Paul Claffey — both instrumental in supporting the GRACE Health Clinic financial campaign — as well as Linda Pekowski, Paula and Charlie Walker, Judy and Tom Hund, Sandy and Stephen Hartnett and most recently, Classic Chevrolet’s Ken Thompson, who was honored for five consecutive years as the event’s title sponsor. Additionally, each year since GRACE’s inception, a car has been raffled off.
“My favorite memory is when Tricia Wood won the car raffle just after leaving the agency,” Schaefer says. “The drawing was completely honest. The Lord was truly guiding our hand that night.” Yet for most, the true highlight of the evening comes from hearing directly from those whom GRACE has helped. “My memories are centered on each client who has fearlessly told their story about how GRACE helped them in a very real time of need,” Schaefer adds.
The 10th Annual GRACE Gala
The 2013 Angels Among Us GRACE Gala will be held Saturday, October 12, at the Irving Convention Center. The evening will begin with drinks and hors d’oeuvres enjoyed by guests while they peruse the silent auction items and prepare for the platinum, big board and live auctions to come. The black-tie dinner will feature great speakers, including Master of Ceremonies Dan Henry, gala committee chairs Sheri and Mike Mills and auctioneer Mike Sadler as well as a video presentation specially produced for this occasion.
A raffle of either a 2013 Chevy Camaro or Silverado Extended Cab will occur following what will likely be a last-minute rush to buy tickets. The evening will conclude with dancing to tunes from the band Limelight. To commemorate the 10th anniversary gala, GRACE asked Pekowski, a longtime gala designer, to use her knowledge of the event and her creativity to design a motif that will inspire celebration.
“This is Linda’s tenth time to design a theme for our gala,” Schaefer says. “I know it is dear to her heart just as she is dear to everyone here at GRACE.” Pekowski began with the idea that GRACE helps in times of crises. From this, the concept grew of storm clouds parting, making way for the sunshine and forming a brilliant rainbow. It is a symbol of a new beginning and a passage to a better place beyond the ravages of nature. For those who seek the aid of GRACE, it is the promise of a new start, free of the concerns of financial woes, hunger, homelessness and illness.
Continuing the mission
With a mission grounded in faith, GRACE continues to help people with programming that leads to self-sufficiency. GRACE has a community health clinic, client-choice food pantry, transitional housing units, financial assistance and training that lead clients to becoming self-sufficient once again. Because of the great community care, GRACE is supported through financial gifts as well as thousands of hours of volunteer work.
“Nearly 5,800 volunteers donate their time to GRACE each year,” Schaefer says. “It is very gratifying for me to know so many of us are great stewards of our communities.”