Every now and then I meet a young person who wants advice about getting into the events industry, and I’m always kind of embarrassed to admit my start was as social chairman at my fraternity. I was in Sigma Chi at the University of Pennsylvania, and I took my stupid job seriously. The Jungle Party was my favorite. You can imagine.
But in the interest of giving back, or at least in the interest of appearing that we were giving back, we also ran an annual fund-raiser called Derby Days, which Sigma Chi groups have been doing all over the country for decades. I was Derby Daddy.
It was a week-long series of events that had hundreds of participants, involving sporting events, a talent contest, an advertising journal, a cheese steak eating contest (I came in second, with seven and a half, a disturbing harbinger of things to come), and of course the ubiquitous casino night.
The year I was in charge we raised the most ever, I got my picture in the paper, blah, blah, blah, and we all patted ourselves on the back for our tireless generosity (although my team, so imaginatively called “Ted’s Team,” retains a sense of deep bitterness for being defeated by the little sisters of Sigma Nu, who seemed to win every year).
We made $50,000, give or take.
So know it is with deep humility that I report on the Northport High School of Long Island’s Midwinter Night’s Dream, which raised $516,000 on January 6. In just seven years, the ongoing program has raised more than $2 million to help fight ALS, or Lou Gherig’s Disease, and helped support the Midwinter Night's Dream Cryopreservation Lab at Stony Brook Medical Center, which opened in June 2009.
They raised 22 percent more than last year. As I attend and cover benefits, I can tell you that in this marketplace, benefits that grow their revenue by even a tiny percentage consider themselves lucky.
The students got involved with the awful disease because not one but two of their teachers are both now in advanced stages, which means a wheelchair, of course, and ever-decreasing physical and muscle motor control.
The event is held at Oheka Castle in Huntington, an event locale I’ve known of for years but never been to. It has a very grand cobblestone courtyard that leads to an equally grand reception hall with a giant cascade of stairs and two mezzanines.
I am a sucker for a dramatic entry, and these kids did theirs with pizzazz. The first level had all male students manning check-in tables in matching navy blazers and maroon and blue rep ties all looking very Ivy League (coincidentally, the Penn colors).
Then at the next landing you walked through a cordon of young women greeters, all in colorful long gowns. And a student string quartet played Mozart’s Quartette. I mean no disrespect when I say that I found the effect to be just adorable.
The event has every element that a big-time benefit should have. There was a step and repeat where celebrities like Billy Baldwin, Caroline Rhea, Richard Kind, and New York Ranger Adam Graves could pose. The ad program was more than 250 pages. Every morsel of food was donated by more than 50 restaurants. There was both a silent and live auction. Mr. Baldwin as the host astonished the room by raising $99,000 in just five minutes during the lightning round.
An aside has to be made to commend Long Island native Mr. Baldwin. He has been an ardent supporter of ALS causes for about 15 years, which I know firsthand. We were both friends with Project ALS (which is one of the ALS organizations that Midwinter Night’s Dream is affiliated with) founder Jenifer Estess, and I saw him at every single event I attended. Jenifer and Project ALS is in itself an astounding story, and if you’d like to know more you can start with the memoriam I wrote for her here.
Taking time out of their busy night to answer my questions were M.C. Alyssa Clemente and award presenter Lucas Hoffman. Both seniors, they told me a little bit about their efforts. They assembled the program, for example, in a long Saturday session in the Science Resources room. I assume there was pizza involved. Lucas copped to some anxiety arising from the trucking in of all the food. Both of them referred to their speech’s length by the number of pages. Remember having to count pages? Sigh.
One of my favorite elements of the fund-raising is that the students do cold calling. This year two students, Jessica Garrecht and Kristi Abbate, got $7,500 from an anonymous donor this way. Makes you want to pick up a phone and hire these young ladies.
If you want to help these students surpass their extraordinary achievement next year, go to amnd.org or call executive director Don Strasser at 631.262.7428. I expect them to hit me up.