It was a homecoming for many in the capacity crowd of 260 that filled the St. Ann Jubilee Center in Old Naples on March 13, and a revelation for others who were new to the heartwarming Hope for Haiti annual gala.
A family-like gathering, attendees all got hugs from among three generations of Kuehners, most of whom are involved in Hope for Haiti — JoAnne and Carl; their daughter-in-law, Amy, and her daughter Lexi; another daughter, Tiffany, a consultant with hope for Haiti; with her fiancee, Mike Stewart, in-country Haiti director; and Carl’s uncle, Monsignor Ralph Kuehner. They welcomed all those who had purchased the $300 tickets — and, in a number of instances, contributed much more in-kind, cash and hands-on assistance to efforts to remedy the Jan. 12 devastation in that earthquake-ravaged country.
The mood was upbeat; the exuberance irrepressible. On arrival, a Haitian steel drum trio set the tempo and “matriarch” JoAnne Kuehner, who co-founded the organization about 20 years ago with Keith Hussey, M.D., greeted partygoers.
Tulips of kir royale — wines were courtesy of Sandi and Tom Moran — and passed hors d’oeuvres prepared by the evening’s caterers, Mathews & Gardner, fueled raffle ticket purchases for a week’s stay in Provençe, France, at the five-bedroom home of prize donors Debbie and Jean Brunel. Guests studied silent-auction displays that included a wide selection of original Haitian art and lots of unique packages. Most eye-catching: a huge orange gecko hammered and chiseled from a 55-gallon metal drum donated by Lady from Haiti owner Melody Bales.
Following costumed members of the Boca Raton-based La Mystique interactive troupe, the assemblage veritably danced to their tables when dining room doors were opened for a dinner of Provençal delights. The action continued nearly constantly until lights were brightened at the end of the evening and partygoers were ushered out with favors and boxes of chocolates.
Event chairpersons Candi Thompson, an R.N., and Steve Shukan, her physician husband, dined with the first post-earthquake contingent of U.S. doctors to land in Haiti from the Naples area. Among them were dentists Brian Childs and Garth McCaffrey, wound-care physician Philip Organ and a Haitian-born doctor, Vladimir Mathieu. Hope for Haiti staff offered their presence and information about its work as well.
NBC-2 anchor Kellie Burns served as emcee and live auctioneer and led a successful cash call.
Kuehner estimates the net event proceeds will exceed $350,000 and insure the continuing success of Hope for Haiti’s mission to improve the quality of life for the Haitian people, particularly children, through education, nutrition and health care.