YMCA gala features creativity, gives back to community
On Saturday, Feb. 22, dynamic duos will descend upon the Williamsport Fire Hall for dinner and dancing at the Hagerstown YMCA’s annual Charity Gala — An Evening of Great Pairings.
Now in its 34th year, the gala raises money for the organization’s community programs while offering bonanza entertainment, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, dancing and more.
Melissa Fountain, gala committee chairwoman, said this year’s Great Pairings theme offers attendees an open slate for creativity.
“An Evening of Great Pairings sounds very formal, but we really want people to think about great pairings in history. It can be anything from Sonny and Cher to Lucy and Desi, Fred and Wilma, Cheech and Chong, black and white, or hot dog and ketchup,” she said. “People are responding well.”
Hagerstown YMCA executive director Maria Rubeling said she knows someone who plans to attend the event as both parts of a pairing.
“One person I know that’s coming will have a half costume on each side,” she said.
Groups of friends such as two couples might plan larger “pairs.”
“They could be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or they could come as a whole band if they want, I guess,” Fountain said.
Tickets for the gala cost $250 per couple and in addition to cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, dinner for two and dancing, include a fun and interactive1-in-250 chance to win a new Nissan Versa provided by Hamilton Nissan or $15,000 in cash.
In past years, the gala has brought in between $35,000 and $55,000 in proceeds for the YMCA, depending on factors including how the bonanza plays out.
“The most attendees we will have will be 500 people, but each ticket is for two people,” Fountain said. “We draw ticket numbers. If your number is drawn, you are out. The last ten people whose numbers are not drawn, those are in the running.”
That is when the fun really begins, she said, as those who are “out” can buy back in by purchasing a second ticket for $100, or purchase a $20 chance to be in the top five.
“We take the top ten out of the room and fit them in these big, hideous Top 10 tee shirts. We reintroduce them into the event and start drawing numbers again, then we get to the top five. You have people who want to wheel and deal with other participants and try to buy them out. It’s entertaining,” she said.
One year, someone from the audience stepped up and said, “I’ll buy everybody out,” and took the winning ticket. It has happened that the final three agreed to split the prize three ways. Another year, one winner called the YMCA the day after the gala and donated $5,000 back to the Y.
Tom and Beth Weber, couple at left, and Julie and Pushkar Basin pose at the Hagerstown YMCA 2019 Charity Gala — Pirates and Princesses. The theme for this year’s event will be An Evening of Great Pairings. (Submitted photo)
Rubeling said some people are reluctant to believe the full prizes are actually awarded.
“One time I heard someone say, ‘They don’t really give a car away.’ Then the guy who won the car stood up and said, ‘Hey. They do. I won the car!’ The guy, a Y member, drives the car here,” she said.
Business owners, workers, vendors, YMCA members and staff members, and acquaintances of all of the above attend the gala.
Pieter Bickford will emcee this year’s event, which also will include raffles, games, trivia and a photo booth.
Proceeds go toward scholarships for children in the community to attend YMCA summer camps and programs, as well as for memberships for individuals and families.
“We spend almost $200,000 a year to help with that,” Rubeling said.
The YMCA works with local recovery homes offering 30-day memberships for residents, and supports Special Olympics in part by providing a place to practice.
“We don’t charge a lot to community organizations that come here. We want to be a center of the community,” Rubeling said.
The Hagerstown YMCA has been around for 100 years, she said, and the YMCA as an entity for more than 175 years. The organization seeks ways to better the community as a whole.
“The Y has always been a place that responds to social needs in the community. Right now some of the big (concerns) are mental health and diabetes prevention. We are working with Meritus Health on strategic planning that encompasses healthy living,” she said. “Exercise, yes, but also a lot about (opioid abuse) and mental health and how to respond to that.”
The Y is far more than just a “gym and swim.”
“We have that, but that’s just a little part of what we have,” Rubeling said. “We have these events to raise funds for all the programs that we offer for free to a lot of people in the community with needs. We don’t want to turn anyone anyway because they can’t afford it. A healthier community is better for everybody.”
Top photo: Hagerstown YMCA 2019 Charity Gala emcee Pieter Bickford poses with Ryan Chapin of Hearty Pet Retail. (Submitted photo)