Tuesday, July 25, 2017  

Ball in the Halls
the Northern Neck YMCA's annual fundraising gala

In our rural community, the very, very wealthy have homes on the water; the very, very poor have homes without water.”

This poignant observation made by Rappahannock Record columnist, Jane Tims, speaks to a gap the Northern Neck Family YMCA bridges every day through its Guardian Program, a scholarship fund which provides financial assistance to children and families in the community, making it possible for them to participate in YMCA membership and programs such as Childcare, Preschool, After-School, Summer Camp, Bright Beginnings and Youth Sports. Within the loop of Kilmarnock, Irvington and White Stone, small communities that are located in Lancaster County, Virginia, there is a plethora of individuals who generously give of their time, talent and treasure to help improve the lives of those
less fortunate.

And nowhere is their amazing generosity more evident than at the Y’s annual gala, the Ball in the Halls—the Northern Neck Y’s largest fundraiser benefiting the Guardian Program. In September 2005, the Y’s new facility was scheduled to open to the public, making it possible for it to increase its membership from 942 to 4068, offering state-of-the-art equipment and the possibility for many increased values-based programs.

Virginia Quality Life (VQL) President, Doug Monroe, wanted to thank the donors whose generosity and vision made it possible for the Y’s unrivaled facility to be built in Kilmarnock. “These people saw the need to have a place where everyone in the community can belong, and didn’t hesitate to support our efforts to turn that dream into a reality,” said Monroe. Peninsula Metropolitan YMCA Associate Executive MJ Anderson carried forth Monroe’s desire with the idea of having a “thank you” gala at the new facility and coined its name, Ball in the Halls. So on August 26, 2005, the first Ball in the Halls emerged as a successful, thank you party to the many individuals whose dreams, efforts and financial support made this new facility possible.

The Y’s doors opened and it became apparent after several months, as more and more Guardian scholarship dollars were used, that funds would need to be raised in order to accommodate the growing request for Guardian scholarship assistance. “Where everyone can belong” is a phrase Anderson and the Y take to heart, and Anderson knew that this event would have to continue, again calling on the generosity of the community to help the Y continue its mission of never turning anyone away due to financial hardship.

Chaired by Eska Beckstoffer, this extraordinary event is planned over nine months by a committee of over twelve volunteers and executed by more than 60 volunteers—all from the community. Susan Johnson and Lisa Shivers, Co-Directors of Development at the Y also play an integral part on Beckstoffer’s committee. Since 2006, the Ball has raised, through sponsor support and auction items, an enormous $425,000, touching the lives of more than 4,000 children and families of the Northern Neck, and making the relatively small branch a national leader in outreach and accessibility. Over half the funds raised for the Guardian Program are raised at the Ball in the Halls gala.
Each year elaborate decorations transform the 33,000 square foot facility into an entirely different space. As guests enter the front doors of the facility, they may have the feeling of being transferred by time capsule into another place and time. “The themes change every year to reflect the hope and opportunity we strive to give to our community’s children through this event,” said Beckstoffer. “The 2006 theme, Dreamcatcher, placed you in a fairyland of colorful ribbons and numerous colorful hoops decorated to resemble a modern version of the Native American dream catcher. These dreamcatchers symbolized the Y’s hope of making dreams come true for children. The 2007 pirate theme, Hidden Treasure, imparted the idea that by giving hope and opportunity to these children, their hidden talents will awaken, giving them a sense of confidence. This year’s Ball in the Halls, Olympian Odyssey, refers to life’s arduous journey of many of our community’s children, and is set in a whimsical ancient Greek motif.” The dress for the evening is creative black-tie which means guests can either wear formal attire or clothes that speak to the theme. The gala begins with a cocktail hour where guests have the opportunity to preview the evening’s line-up of 15 luxury auction items. The items are imaginatively showcased in the Y’s Family Recreation Center where hors d’oeuvres are passed while guests chat and mingle, discussing their preferred items.

After the cocktail hour, guests make their way to the gymnasium which has been spectacularly transformed to portray the evening’s theme. Here they will be seated at assigned tables for the culmination of dining, auctioning and dancing the night away. An elegant dinner buffet, a live auction of 15 luxury items and an outdoor bar are all part of the fun. As a personal touch, MJ Anderson writes a song every year which she and local musicians perform during the auction. “We never lose sight of the main reason for this event—to raise money for our children —but we also do everything we can to make sure our guests have an evening to remember,” said Anderson.

“We are thrilled with this year’s auction items,” said Hoppie Cockrell, who along with Chris Bresett, has co-chaired the Ball’s auction committee since 2006. “We have a 10-day luxury South African safari donated by Warren Green and Caroline Wheal of Footprints Africa; Dean and Terrie Dort have donated a week in their magnificent home in Provence, France; The Tides has donated a one-year golf membership at the Golden Eagle, and Fine Travel, Inc. has donated a four-night stay at the fabulous Bellagio Las Vegas.” Other auction items include more travel packages, a jet ski, a progressive dinner for 12, a Chesapeake Bay boat party for 75, and a puppy with accompanying portrait by local artist Susan Sills. “We are so grateful to the local business owners and others in the community who give so much to support our community through this event,” said Bresett.

New this year is a raffle for a shopping spree at Chesapeake & Crescent Home in Kilmarnock, where the lucky winner will have $10,000 to spend on a selection of fine home furnishings. Paula Thomasson, owner of Chesapeake & Crescent, has been a Ball committee member, auction donor and sponsor for two years. “The Ball in the Halls is the premier event in our community,” said Thomasson, “Giving through the Ball multiplies our gift to the Guardian Program. We anticipate raising $20,000 with this raffle through the efforts of our volunteer committee members, YMCA staff and business owners who will be selling raffle tickets. Working together for the greater good of our community allows us to achieve much more than any singular effort on my part.” Raffle tickets are $50 and may be purchased at the Y, Chesapeake & Crescent Home, Chesapeake Bank in Kilmarnock, the Dandelion in Irvington, Net Cruisers in Lancaster, Northern Neck State Bank in White Stone, and from Ball committee members. Only 400 tickets will be sold for this raffle. The drawing will take place at the Ball but the winner need not be present to win.

Governor Tim Kaine and First Lady Anne Holton were guests at the 2006 Ball, and the committee is thrilled to have Senator John Warner as the Honorary Chair this year. Warner understands the importance of community support. “One’s achievements in life are largely owed to all who helped along the way,” said Warner, expressing gratitude to the people and institutions who have guided him throughout his life. “They forged my character; they forged my sense of values.” In addition to being Honorary Chair at the Ball, Warner will participate in the Lighting of the Torch Relay, a community event which will take place the day of the Ball and culminate with the Senator lighting the torch at the entrance of the Y prior to the evening’s gala.

For more information about the Northern Neck Family YMCA’s fundraising gala, contact Susan Johnson, Co-Director of Development, at (804) 435-0223 or (804) 438-5187.