With the legendary OHEKA Castle providing a stunning backdrop, the Huntington Foundation threw a party late last week, raising tens of thousands of dollars at its annual Reach for the Stars gala.
The evening had all the required ingredients to assure a great time for the crowd of nearly 300.There was fine food, music, dancing, raffle prizes and good friends spanning the gamut of the school community.
The Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education has donated more than $1 million in goods and services to the district since its founding more than two decades ago.
The Huntington Foundation’s Spirit Award was presented to Huntington alum Michael Brown and high school social studies teacher James Graber, who also serves as president of the Associated Teachers of Huntington. The duo joined a long list of previous recipients who have left their mark on the district.
Huntington Foundation President
Alice Marie Rorke. (Cliff Weissman photo.)
“It was a special night,” said Alice Marie Rorke, the Huntington Foundation’s president. “It was also very successful financially. The two honorees had a blast. Their speeches were heartfelt.”
The crowd bought thousands of chances on dozens of high quality raffle baskets stuffed with items donated by local businesses and community members. Energetic auctioneer “Big Mike” later conducted a live auction for a set of other interesting items, raising thousands of additional dollars for the Huntington Foundation’s important work.
The live auction had bidders paying attention all around the room. One of the items included an exclusive VIP tour for four of Yankee Stadium with a “World Series legend.” Access to the dugout and field are included. Another item provided two tickets to a sold-out performance on the Broadway hit “Hamilton” on May 6. That package included dinner and an overnight stay in Manhattan. The other items were equally tempting. The Flemington Furs cape was also highly prized.
As the crowd filed into OHEKA it was greeted by a Huntington High School string ensemble playing the most enchanting music. Many Huntington Foundation Youth Board members were also in attendance. The board includes Kayla Ryan, Nick Lanzisero, Casey Moskowitz, Bethany Danziger, Katarina Obermaier, Cynthia Ortega, Charlie Ehrman, Rachel Moss, Naomi Ponce, Peter Ciccone, Levi Leach, Julia Rogan, Lindsay Saginaw, Matt Giamo, Jocelyn Gray, Eve Combs, Katy Dara and Alexa Cassar.
A crowd of about 300 turned out for the Huntington
Foundation's gala. (Cliff Weissman photo.)
An award winning filmmaker, Mr. Ehrman created a special video highlighting the Huntington Foundation’s good works that captured the crowd’s attention
“It was simply an incredible evening coordinated by an incredible group that provides immeasurable support for our students, staff and programs,” Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky said. “I’d like to express my sincerest thanks to the many individuals who give so much time and energy to HFEE’s cause, as well as my congratulations to event honorees Mike Brown and James Graber.”
Proceeds from last week’s gala will go toward replenishing funds for two grant programs that encourage innovative programs and equipment that budget constraints prevent the district from supporting.
Gala chairperson Kimberley Steinberg organized the five-hour event with the help of a dedicated group of Huntington Foundation volunteers who helped make the evening an enjoyable one for those in attendance.
Huntington School Board members Tom DiGiacomo
and Xavier Palacios at the gala. (Cliff Weissman photo.)
The crowd included all seven members of the Huntington School Board along with the district’s administrative corps and dozens of teachers. Parents, alumni and family and friends of the two Spirit Award recipients filled OHEKA’s grand ballroom.
The band East Coast kept the crowd entertained throughout the evening. There was even a solo guitarist/singer and an illusionist on the scene during the first hour of the gala.
Huntington alum Kevin Thorbourne and district faculty member Tom Tantillo gave what can only be described as legendary introductions of Messrs. Brown and Graber, respectively. State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci was also on hand to present certificates of merit to the two honorees.
Parent Nancy Lundell came up with the original idea for an educational foundation in 1993. She pulled together a group of people, including fellow district parents Beverly Wayne and Elliot Levine, an attorney who performed the legal work necessary to formally create the Foundation’s corporate structure.
That small group of parents, along with several others, began meeting in the superintendent’s conference room in what was then the administrative wing at Woodhull School. It was from those meetings that the Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education emerged, becoming a non-profit organization in 1994, with formal bylaws, a logo and a board of directors.
In addition to Mrs. Lundell, Mrs. Wayne and Mr. Levine, the original directors included Diane Kirchner, Tom Webster, Susan Agolia, Paula Schneider and Susan Jouard. The first fundraiser was held on a Sunday afternoon at the old Coco’s Water Café on New York Avenue in Halesite. (The site is now occupied by Prime.)
The original volunteers devoted enormous amounts of time to the organization, helping to insure its long-term success.