Sunday, May 23, 2010

City Year Red Jacket Ball

So I went to a ball, no big deal. Pretty much standard fare down here.

The Red Jacket Ball raises money for City Year Little Rock/North Little Rock. The nonprofit unites young people ages 17-24 who give a year of their lives in service, predominantly through tutoring elementary-aged children in low-income, inner-city public schools. These young people make up the City Year "corps." Their dedication to the organization and the students with whom they work was palpable Friday night at the Statehouse Convention Center.

Each year, the Red Jacket Ball honors a Little Rock philanthropist with City Year's Lifetime of Service Award. This year, Judy Tenenbaum was named the prestigious honoree, and this only a year after she received a similar award from the Jewish Federation of Arkansas at its annual dinner.

But back to the whole gala-hopping phenomenon. Growing up in D.C., charity benefits were far out of my reach. I grew up believing that such events were something only the most elite of Washington and ridiculously wealthy ever saw an invite to. But in Little Rock, not only are tickets to some of these things actually affordable because there is a definite intent to bring in younger members of the community in order to get them excited about all the causes that can use their help, but there are a multitude of causes for such a relatively small city.

With dear friend Jessica Dean

The calendar of charity events seems endless here. And what's so impressive about that is that this is Arkansas. This is one of the poorest states. But that means that every need -- every chance to teach someone to read, to mentor a young child through school, to donate food, to fight domestic violence -- is that much more important.

So, Arkansas is also one of the most generous states. Since moving here, I have found again and again that while yes, Southern hospitality is alive and well, it's more than that. The people of this state care about each other, they want the best for their fellow Arkansans, and they will do anything and everything they can to achieve that. So, there are countless ways to become involved, even at a young age. One can join a board -- I did, for adult literacy -- or volunteer at an event, or mentor one of the young corps members, in the case of City Year. Opportunities to become involved in nonprofits are within anyone's reach here, and young people are encourages to become involved in order to build the next generation of givers. This appreciation and embracing of young people in this community is one of the most amazing things about living here. I know that all I have learned about the many critical causes here will stay with me and forever help me to keep my priorities straight, no matter where I might go from here.

Best moment of the evening? When a City Year corps member fainted on-stage, and U.S. Rep. (also attorney, doctor...) Vic Snyder quickly came to her rescue. The girl was fine in the end. Probably more thrilled about being saved by a Congressman than anything else.

U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder with General (Ret.) Wesley Clark

Sort of reminded me of a Monday in November 2007 when I had to catch a flight home suddenly to attend my grandfather's funeral. I rushed through security, late, overwhelmed and in tears by the time I made it to the gate. Who was there also boarding the plane to D.C.? Vic Snyder and fellow Congressman Mark Ross (go figure. Tangent - one shouldn't be surprised; this kind of thing seems to happen all the time here.) I was immediately embarrassed at my disheveled appearance, and I tried to avoid making eye contact. But Snyder was there, as he always seem to be, with the kindest words. He said, "See? We haven't left yet. You haven't missed the flight." He had no idea of the reason for my rush or the sadness I was feeling that day. But I will never forget that moment, and in fact, it was good fodder for some much needed laughter later that week.

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