Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties welcomed over 350 guests to its Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club on November 18, 2023, for its 10th Annual Champions for Children Gala. This signature event was presented by the Annette J. Hagens Memorial Foundation and recognized Jaime and Julie DiDomenico whose generosity has been instrumental in helping local youth achieve their full potential for nearly two decades. Proceeds will ensure youth across Sarasota and DeSoto counties have access to award-winning programs that foster academic success, strong character and leadership, healthy lifestyles, and career readiness.
The gala featured a poolside cocktail reception, a three-course gourmet meal by Culinary Creations by Metz, silent auction, and musical performances by Club members.
Upon arrival, guests were greeted by the sounds of a string quartet showcasing Club members and enjoyed cocktails and appetizers while perusing the silent auction before the program began.
Guests soon moved inside for dinner where they entered a gymnasium that had been transformed into a blue coastal oasis. Board Chair, Ken Freeman and Foundation Chair, Steven Townsend kicked off the evening's program and introduced Ava M. and Jakobi D. as the night's MCs. Co-MC Jakobi then welcomed Club member, Jade to the stage to lead guests in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Following the pledge, Ava shared how the Club has helped her to find her voice. Ava stated, ‘I’ve found my voice and I use it. I use it to say “YES” to new experiences, like speaking on this stage tonight. I use it to advocate for issues that are important to local teens and to make this community an even brighter space for all. And I use my voice to empower other teens to find theirs. Two years ago, younger Ava would not believe what today’s Ava is doing and I want other teens to have that experience. I use my voice to amplify the voices of others and to show the teen's throughout our community that they have a voice…and it deserves to be heard.”
Next, the many sponsors who helped make the event possible were recognized including; the Annette J. Hagens Memorial Foundation as the Presenting Sponsor; Diamond Sponsors Publix Super Markets Charities and the Louis and Gloria Flanzer Philanthropic Trust, Platinum Sponsors including the Irving and Marilyn Naiditch Foundation, Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, Steve & Marjolaine Townsend, Drs Robert & Patricia Gussin, Lee Wetherington Homes, JoAnn Heffernan Heisen; Gold Sponsors, Cool Today, Ken & Patricia Freeman, Band Gates & Dramis Attorneys, The DeLieto Team at MS&C Commercial, Blistex, Caldwell Trust, Shumaker, Alexandra Armstrong, Crews Bank & Trust, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Bill & Christine Isaac, Bowman, George, Scheb, Kimbrough, Koach & Chapman, P.A., Purmort & Martin Insurance Agency, Atlas Building Company, Seacoast Bank, Dan & Clare Murphy Family Fund, and Synovus.
The program continued with Jakobi sharing how the Club’s Perlman Price Young Entrepreneurs Program (PYE) ignited his entrepreneurial spirit and revealed his ability to start his own business. He said, “experience is such an important part of learning and I received both the knowledge AND experience at my Club. Thanks to that dual thread, I don’t just understand entrepreneurship, I feel that I know it. Understanding can be taught but knowing is earned.” In closing, he shared how he and his father recently launched a company called Champions Voice, LLC which is “dedicated to empowering students and athletes to leverage their experiences, knowledge, and skills to positively impact the world.”
On the heels of his remarks, dinner was served which included an Atlantis Salad, Surf & Turf, and an Under the Sea Dessert Duo. Following dinner, the program resumed with Club member Juliet performing a harmonious rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Jakobi and Ava then returned to the stage to welcome Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties President and CEO, Bill Sadlo to share Club highlights and present the 2023 Champions for Children award to Jaime & Julie DiDomenico.
After a brief speech by Jaime, Club alumnus and 2020 FL Youth of the Year, Marguerite Andrich was welcomed to the stage to share her “letter to her younger self.” The letter was a reflection on her Club journey which “changed her life” and helped her “find her voice” in the face of being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In closing, she shared that she wrote the letter because “the Club set the standard of how to live by giving back and paying it forward.” She went on to share that she currently works for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade and hopes to “continue the promise of the mission for the next generation.”
Jaime DiDomenico returned to the stage to encourage the crowd to “make a collective impact by investing in the programs, opportunities, and support these amazing Club members who show up day in and day out to learn and achieve.” Presenting Sponsor, the Annette J. Hagens Memorial Foundation offered a $100,000 matching challenge. The match was reached before the event concluded.
Ava and Jakobi returned to the stage to announce Caldwell Trust Company as next year’s Champions for Children, close out the evening, and invite everyone to the dance floor.
Visit our Facebook to see additional photos from the event!
Save the date for the 2024 Champions for Children Gala Honoring Caldwell Trust on Saturday, November 23.
Feature Photos by Rod Millington Photography
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