The Huntington Foundation celebrated its silver anniversary in grand style at OHEKA Castle last Thursday night, raising tens of thousands of dollars at the organization’s annual Reach for the Stars gala.
The evening drew a record crowd of 350, which jammed into the grand ballroom. There was fine food, music, dancing, raffle prizes and good friends spanning every segment of the school community.
Formally known as the Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education, the group presented its coveted Spirit Award to Woodhull Intermediate School Assistant Principal Jarrett Stein and Main Street Nursery owners Rich and Robert McKean.
Jarrett Stein with Gala Chair Kimberley Steinberg and HFEE President Alice Marie Rorke. (Cliff Weissman photo.)
Guests were entertained during the cocktail hour by illusionist Chris Dare, Tonal Control a capella group and guitarist Joe Tizzio, who were all positioned in separate areas of the grand castle.
“The HFEE dinner was magnificent,” Mr. Stein said. “The outpouring of support was just overwhelming. The bond between this community and the school district is what separates us from other places.”
The evening drew Huntington School Board members, district executives, building and department leaders, faculty and staff, alumni, parents and dozens of folks from the business community.
“We honored and celebrated the selfless giving and unwavering caring for and nurturing of our students by Jarrett Stein, as well as the generous spirit, generosity and extraordinary humility that is the essence of the McKean brothers of Main Street Nursery,” Huntington Foundation President Alice Marie Rorke said.
The crowd dined on dozens of butler passed appetizers and choices at fixed stations during the cocktail hour. Dinner duet entrée featured grilled sterling silver filet mignon with caramelized garlic mashed potatoes, tied haricots verts and baby carrots in port wine demi-glace and pan seared Chilean sea bass with steamed jasmine rice and citrus fondue.
“A very big thank you to Kimberley Steinberg, our gala chairperson whose vision for a Silver Anniversary Gala has certainly exceeded our expectations and Laura Cheshire who has been right by her side helping her achieve that vision and the entire HFEE board and youth board for an unforgettable evening,” Mrs. Rorke said.
The dessert hour was unforgettable. The items filled an entire large room at the castle. Some of the choices included white chocolate mousse with fresh raspberries, dark chocolate mousse with fresh strawberries, croquembouche, warm apple strudel station, assorted fruit sorbets and gelato accompanied by biscotti and madeleine, warm caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream, sweets and treats station, pastry chef’s selection of cakes and pies, cheesecake station, including American, cappuccino and chocolate.
“Another terrific night”
“It was another terrific night for the Huntington Foundation and the Huntington School District in general,” Superintendent James W. Polansky said. “Huntington folks packed OHEKA Castle to celebrate what is good and right in education, as well as in our schools. And there is much to celebrate! Thank you to the HFEE board and interns for once again outdoing themselves and for all that they continue to do for our students, staff and programs!”
Dozens of silent and live auction items were displayed in beautiful fashion and a buzz prevailed around the room and the winners were revealed. Live music by “Collective Funk” kept the atmosphere lively and the dance floor filled until late into the evening.
“I am so grateful for the history, legacy and incredible generosity that filled the room,” Mrs. Rorke said. “It was the culmination of all of the years of memories, the volunteerism and the financial and moral support from the community that has shared the same goal and vision for HFEE; to give our children the best education we possibly can.”
Patrick Lyons claimed the grand prize of the Toyota Rav 4LE. It was awarded following a dramatic drumroll and balloon drop.
“The HFEE team works tirelessly for the children of the Huntington School District and I truly stand in awe of their dedication and downright willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty as volunteers,” Mrs. Rorke said.
The castle was filled with floral pieces supplied by Main Street Nursery. The items created an aroma that reminded many guests of a spring meadow.
“So incredibly thankful”
“We are so incredibly thankful to all the local businesses and sponsors who support our mission,” Mrs. Rorke said. “We are forever grateful for their continued support as we look to the next 25 years and future generation of education and HFEE.”
The Huntington Foundation has donated well over $1 million in goods and services to the district since its founding more than two decades ago.
“We are so grateful to the past board members and honorees of HFEE, many of whom were on hand to celebrate with us,” Mrs. Rorke said. “They were instrumental to the success and legacy of the Huntington Foundation.”
Dozens of Huntington High School students were also on hand during the evening. The Ready Step team even performed for the crowd.
“The HFEE Youth Board members were amazingly supportive and helpful throughout the evening and the crowd was so impressed with the 25th Anniversary video presentation by very talented senior Kyle Chin,” Mrs. Rorke said.
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.
“Thank you to all the administrators, teachers, aides, Board of Education and, of course, our Superintendent James Polansky,” Mrs. Rorke said. “Your support of what we do is critical to our success.”
Planning has already commenced for the 26th annual bash next March. It will be hard to top the 2018 edition, but there’s nothing the Huntington Foundation cannot accomplish.
“Huntington is a very special community and we are so blessed and lucky to live here,” Mrs. Rorke said.
Huntington Foundation history
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 and enormous amount of time to the organization, helping to insure its long-term success.