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WASHINGTON, D.C. Despite receiving a $3.8 million three-year commitment from Oprah Winfrey last year, the U.S. Dream Academy, which provides after-school programs for children of incarcerated parents, saw its budget for the “Power of a Dream Gala” drop from $220,000 to $200,000 this year. Another challenge: The guest list grew to 500 from last year’s 450. U.S. Dream Academy director of development Angela Bonitto was thus forced to stretch her dollars for the eighth annual gala, held at the Ritz-Carlton on Thursday.
The top budgetary priority: An event planner who could make sure the gala ran smoothly and that donors had a chance to meet the nonprofit’s leadership. “Last year was very hectic,” said Bonitto, who enlisted Kyle Hutchinson of Hutchinson Design Group for this year’s gala. “It’s important for donors to be able make connections to your organization. They need to understand your mission.” Bonitto also spent money on top-notch audiovisual vendors. “Audiovisual is very important. You’ve got to have the right people if things go wrong,” she said.
Bonitto also wanted to make sure the decor in the dining room had that “wow factor.” Bright turquoise tablecloths with embroidery, sea green seat cushions, and tulip arrangements on the tables gave the room a fresh, springtime look. Strings of crystals glittered behind the stage and dangled from the ballroom’s drum lampshades.
The evening’s celebrity guests, including comedian Chris Tucker, actor Lou Gossett Jr., and Taraji P. Henson from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, appeared at the event gratis, and the U.S. Dream Academy picked up their travel and hotel costs. Grammy Award-winning vocalist BeBe Winans and a 60-member choir of students from the Academy’s after-school programs in D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia provided the evening’s musical entertainment.
The menu included roasted beef tenderloin, a tomato and avocado tian, and a caramel bar, banana cheesecake, and pistachio ice cream trio—but no alcohol. “We represent kids, and so we choose not to serve alcohol. We stay close to our mission,” Bonitto said.
Correction: A caption was changed to correctly identify Clifton Ross III.