Honoring local do-gooders like the Bartell family at a “Denim to Diamonds” downtown bash.
With the New Year—and the political climate increasingly disconcerting—there seems no better time to celebrate those among us who make do-gooding missions a regular practice. In 1996, The Seattle Hotel Association created the “Evening of Hope” gala to showcase those who make a difference in the community. Over the past 19 years, proceeds (totaling more than $5.6 million) have benefited dozens of local charities by leveraging the collective strength of 58 downtown member hotels.
This year’s 20th annual fundraiser (presented by Delta Air Lines) takes guests on a glitzy “Denim to Diamonds” adventure on Saturday, February 4, at the grand Fairmont Olympic Hotel, while allowing them to take a stand against homelessness. The 2017 event benefits Mary’s Place, a nonprofit that “empowers homeless women, children and families to reclaim their lives by providing shelter, nourishment, resources, healing and hope in a safe community.”
The elegant-meets-fun evening features delicious food, drink and entertainment, while honoring a familiar name on the Seattle scene—the Bartells, owners of the oldest and largest family-owned drugstore chain in the nation. In addition to serving thousands of Washington residents at 64 locations in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, the Bartell family regularly supports local charities that directly benefit the region.
We spoke with gala organizers Rene Neidhart and Suzanne Hight to learn more about the anticipated February event that promises to be sophisticated, colorful and sprinkled with some down-home fun.
Rene Neidhart: From the inception of the organization and the event, I have been fully engaged in the direction and growth of the Evening of Hope Gala. As the current event chairperson, I am involved with overseeing the gala experience, along with procurement. The first thing we did was to hire an expert in the field of fundraising—Suzanne Hight. She assists me in making it fun, engaging and unique year after year. She has been instrumental in finding ways to grow our charitable contribution bandwidth for our beneficiaries.
Suzanne Hight: I was brought in because of my marketing and creative expertise, with the idea of keeping the event fresh and exciting. In Seattle, we have so many fundraising events each year, and both donors and guests start to develop auction burnout. My role is to not let that happen, by keeping it a party that makes a difference in the community, so everyone walks away with something.
Donors get to enjoy the party while making a contribution to our many wonderful organizations, and the organizations in turn get to fulfill their mission by giving a hand-up to people in need. Also, auction patrons must be able to relate to the organization on a personal level, which is why they need know how and where the money will be used on every level—whether it’s a substantial gift or just $100. Attendees want to make sure their contribution will make a difference.
Q: Why did the association create the gala in 1996, and who has benefited from this fundraising event over the years?
RN: The organization saw a very big need that wasn’t being filled, so we formed the gala during the Aids crises to raise awareness and funds for the Northwest Aids Foundation. The call to action was a no-brainer for us, because of the overall lack of funding available for Aids research. The hotel industry employs a large number of LGBTQ associates, and we witnessed the full impact of the Aids epidemic firsthand.
We are in the hospitality business, which means we pride ourselves on being caretakers in business and philanthropy. After several years, we saw what kind of change we could achieve by supporting and raising awareness for a growing local organization. At that point, we decided to change the beneficiary every few years and to have the funds always be used in Seattle/Washington State. After the NW Aids foundation, the next beneficiaries were the Komen foundation, the Market Foundation, Plymouth Housing and the Police Foundation.
SH: During the early 90s, I was looking to get more involved in the Seattle community, and the Seattle Hotel Association just happened to ask me to become a part of it. This was a direct result of my involvement and work with the newly named Hutch Holiday Gala, which is now very successful.
Q: How and why was the Bartell family chosen as this year’s honoree?
RN: The Bartell family was selected by us and Mary’s Place for the support they provide to them and the community as a whole. We have some wonderful Seattle-based businesses that give back in significant ways but aren’t given due recognition for the difference they make for so many of our homeless residents.
SH: Having a community leader as an honoree is instrumental in engaging the audience, which adds a local face to the event. It also recognizes particular individual(s) or families who have been very involved in the community and in supporting Mary’s Place. Sometimes these individuals aren’t recognized for their amazing contributions, and we wanted to change that cycle. We strive to identify an honoree who has ties to the local community and/or the Seattle hospitality industry.
Q: Why is giving back to the community and spotlighting those doing the same so important to you all?
RN: The Seattle Hotel Association values its relationship with the community; the community supports our businesses, and we in turn support the community. This event is just one of many examples. The list ranges from Children’s Hospital and Public TV to the Ronald McDonald House (and so on). Giving back is important to us because it’s the right thing to do, and honoring those who support our causes is our way of thanking them.
SH: I wanted a role that makes a difference not just for one life, but for many. My prior job was at an advertising agency, and while invigorating and exciting, it wasn’t fulfilling my personal goal to give back in meaningful ways. Selling products wasn’t cutting it, so I took my skills and talents and re-boxed them to work in the nonprofit business arena. This allowed me to help raise much-needed funds for programs.
Q: For those unable to attend, what are other ways to get involved with local charity work?
RN: Volunteering at shelters/organizations, finding out where they need help (and how a little effort can make a big difference) … or by simply sending a check benefitting Mary’s Place.
SH: Follow your passion and get involved in organizations that can make a difference for you and others. Start by volunteering at shelters/organizations and fundraising events. Help to procure items or by giving what you can afford. It all helps to make a big difference.