Sunday, April 6, 2014

Last night was the Gala, the second act of Down Home Ranch’s big annual fundraising weekend. 
Friday was brisk, clear, and breezy, but not too much so for a great day on the golf course.  About 130 golfers played, or played at, 18 holes on the beautiful Avery Ranch course.  All went off without a hitch, according to those who should know.

Saturday dawned cloudy and chilly, and we had all day to get ready for the Gala, held at the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum.  The Lt. Governor’s widow, Jan, graciously served as our honorary chair of the event, although she was unable to attend in person.  Still, it was very special looking around the beautiful interior, all decked out for our gala, and knowing we had her blessing for this event.

The gala followed weeks of meetings and reviews of the “run of show.”  Kristin and Andrea were ready at the payment table, and Kristin’s twin sister Krystal, their mom, and Casey held down the reception desk.
Seventy or so items were laid out for inspection with their bid sheets in the silent auction area, and the catering lines were ready to go.  Jerry fretted about my speech (but not his). 

We conferred with Andrew, the auctioneer/MC, on last minute details before getting ready to launch the serious part of the evening: matching a $100,000 challenge grant from the Still Water Foundation of Austin.
Then a most delightful cog slipped in our well-oiled machine... 

A dear friend of the Ranch surreptitiously handed us a letter outlining a complex offer to match dollar for dollar the first pledge of $10,000 made that night, and also the first pledge of $5,000.  After that he would pledge $2,500 for each pledge of either up to a personal investment of $50,000.

He wished to remain anonymous.
When it was time for the “Paddles Up” portion of the evening, Andrew played the video  prepared for the evening—a lovely short piece consisting of clips of our Ranchers at their work.  Then I stood to prep the audience for the evening’s ask.
I led off with an overview of the importance of our work program to our Ranchers.  Fees for service paid by Medicaid funds cover housing, food, and staffing, but although there is expectation imposed for some sort of day program for the “consumers” receiving services from the state, there is no money to support such a program.
That’s why so many adults with intellectual disabilities sit around coloring or sitting on the couch watching TV. 
But we’d figured from the outset that a Ranch setting was one with a skill level for everyone, and there was no reason at all that our Ranchers would be unable to contribute substantially to the work of the Ranch—from birthing calves to working in the kitchen.  That’s what we’ve always worked toward, even though frankly it would be cheaper to hire people who already know how to do these things rather than train our Ranchers to.
And now the grant from the Still Water Foundation would enable us to take a gigantic leap into the future, if all went well.
So I spoke a little about the importance of work for everyone, how it puts our Ranchers on an even footing with the rest of the world to have a job, be good at it, and earn a paycheck in the process.
I had Mike Larcher stand up, and told about his pride in scooping horse poop, even to the point of proudly proclaiming one morning to me, “Look, Judy, they made more!”  The little story got a laugh, as I knew it would, and Mike stood and beamed.
Then I mentioned our chickens, and how they were supplying the whole Ranch with eggs to consume, and eggs to sell.  “They’re laying 90 eggs a day now,” I said proudly.
Then way back in the crowd, a familiar figure stands up.  It’s King, aka the “egg man,” who cares for the chickens, even driving down nightly after supper in his golf cart to lock them up safely for the night.
“They’re not laying 90 eggs a day, Judy,” he admonished sternly.  “They’re laying 100 eggs a day!” 
The crowd laughed and applauded.
Then it was time for Paddles Up.
We knew there would be a $10,000 pledge, because we were prepared to make one.  We recently sold our condo in Austin and figured it could serve as part of our tithe, so Kelly was all set with our bid paddle to pop up when Andrew called for a $10,000 pledge.
Oops, a man at the next table, a fellow parent of a child at DHR, surprised us!  His was the $10,000 matched by our generous benefactor.  Ours was the next and last.
Then at the next table, a dear friend pledged $5,000.  Swiftly following that, pledges were taken for progressively smaller amounts (but which, of course, mounted up in higher numbers).
Our good friend who’d pledged the $5,000, possessed of a puckish sense of humor, began “matching” the pledges coming in with a quarter.  It got a laugh each time.
But then something magical happened.  The Ranchers in the audience, seeing that Andrew was accepting 25 cent pledges, realized that they, too, must be in the running, and began bringing their quarters and dollars (and even a silver dollar coin!) to Andrew.
This was nothing we could have, or ever would have, planned.
Our puckish friend was engaged in a little mischief.  But our Ranchers were acting in dead earnest to meet our goal.
I leaned to a table mate and whispered, “We’re seeing the widow’s mite in action.”  With tears in my eyes, I admit.
By the end of this glorious evening, we, and friends assembled, had met the $100,000 match dollar for dollar, with funds left over, thanks to our Ranchers. 
After that, it was party time, as we danced everything from the conga line to the hokey pokey to the great music of the Aristocrats.  Usually it’s our Ranchers who dominate the dance floor, but last night twice as many guests as usual joined in the fun.
I heaved a sigh of relief and made some lame jokes about attending someone else’s gala so I could have fun and relax, eat, and buy things at the silent auction—none of which I’d done at ours.
But that’s ok.  I witnessed the hearts and souls of our Ranchers in action, and saw clearly that they understand what we’re all trying to do together, they get it, and they want it.
And no event could deliver more than that. 

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