Supporters of The National Inclusion Project helped to raise over $465,000 at its recent gala honoring 2009 Champions. The inspirational evening was held October 17, 2009 at the Raleigh Marriott City Center in North Carolina.
The morning of the 2009 Champions Gala began with the Annual Volunteer Roundtable. For two hours volunteers from across the country came together with Director of Services Aron Hall and Executive Director Jerry Aiken to share ideas, discuss the successes of the past year and learn what the future holds for the National Inclusion Project. There were many fresh and interesting comments made about ideas for buying-in, creativity, and effectiveness of ideas and projects which benefit the National Inclusion Project. Thinking outside of the box was encouraged; nothing was considered too far-reaching. Hopefully in the years ahead some of the ideas generated from the Roundtable will be used by the Project.
Early afternoon brought pre-registration for all the Gala attendees and an opportunity to not only view the numerous silent auction items on display, but to start the bidding on them as well.
A VIP Reception for Gala Honorees, Guests, and Platinum, Gold and Silver Sponsors kicked off the evening’s events. The highlight was the presentation of $8,000 from Ken Cassis of MDRT and $10,000 from Sue O'Donnell of the Christie Cookie Company for finishing first in the “$25,000 Charity Giveaway.”
After everyone was seated, the event emcee Lynda Loveland introduced National Inclusion Project Co-Founder Clay Aiken who welcomed everyone to the evening’s festivities and declared the evening a celebration of inclusion for all children. Dinner was follow by the evening’s program, which began with an introduction by the National Inclusion Project other Co-Founder, Diane Bubel.
The Project’s Director of Marketing and Operations; Kristy White, introduced the evening’s first Champions Award honoree, The Sparkle Effect. Sarah Cronk and Sarah Herr, two varsity cheerleaders from Pleasant Valley High School in Iowa founded the Sparkle Effect, a non-profit organization that encourages high school students across the country to include children with special needs on their cheerleading squads. The two Sarahs accepted the award and were joined on stage by Emily Finn, a cheerleader with Down Syndrome, who participates on the Sparkle squad.
Jerry Aiken presented the second Champions Award to Mitsubishi Electric and Electronics USA, Inc as this year’s Corporate Champion for their outstanding commitment in helping young people with disabilities to maximize their potential and participation in society. Sally Wade, Vice President of Human Resources, and Kevin Webb, Director of MEAF, spoke of that commitment and the excitement of partnering with the National Inclusion Project.
Diane Bubel and Clay Aiken returned to the stage to present the newly established Bubel Aiken Founders’ Award honoring outstanding volunteer service. Nominations had been submitted recognizing individuals, groups or Beta Alpha chapters that had gone above and beyond in the last year. Five finalists were introduced and then the award was presented to Marti Ford for her work in distributing over 200 copies of the book Our Friend Mikayla to many of the schools in the Las Vegas area and beyond – even as far as Japan.
National Inclusion Project Board Member Dr. Pricilla Brame introduced the final Champions honorees for the evening. Patrick Henry Hughes was born without eyes and with the inability to straighten his arms and legs making him unable to walk. His father Patrick John Hughes introduced him to the piano at 9 months of age. Patrick studied piano in the years that followed and later studied the trumpet. At the urging of the University of Louisville Marching Band director, Dr Gregory P. Bynes, Patrick joined the marching band, playing the trumpet while his father pushed his wheelchair through the marching routines. The commitment of this father and son team and their demonstration of the importance that persons of ALL abilities be included along with the support of Louisville’s Dr Bynes made them the final Champions to be recognized for the evening.
All in attendance were in for a special treat as Patrick took to the stage and performed. By the end of his two song performance the audience was on their feet. All three men then together accepted their award.
Executive Director Jerry Aiken returned to make the Foundation Address, which concluded with the debut of a new video narrated by Project Co-Founder Clay Aiken, “Inclusion – What Are You Waiting For.” Staff and volunteers will now use this video to help share the Project’s message.
Next on the evening’s program was the Live Auction. A number of outstanding items were up for the highest bidder. From tickets and a meet and greet opportunity for a David Foster and Friends Concert to a “Day with Clay,” the auction conducted by Clay Aiken and auctioneer Joe Veasey was once again a huge success.
After a warm introduction by Board Member Faye Parker, the evening came to a close with a performance by Clay Aiken.
Special thanks to Karen Meersman, Cindy Skuce, and Trudy Barbisan for assisting with the recap.