By Karin Fabry
For the past three years, Ocala Style’s Diamond Gala Affair has been raising funds for worthy local organizations. Last year, the event raised more than $60,000 for Sheltering Arms, a non-profit organization established to provide residential care for abandoned, abused, or neglected children in our area.
“There are many worthwhile organizations out there,” Ocala Style publisher Kathy Johnson says. “But Sheltering Arms holds a special place in my heart. This organization helps children who have been lost through the cracks. These are defenseless kids with no resources. The people these children relied on most for protection and support, their parents, have let them down. These kids need our help.”
Kathy was so touched by the children she met at Sheltering Arms and the mission the staff is trying to achieve that she now sits on the board of directors.
“When the kids first get to Sheltering Arms,” Kathy says, “they have nothing more than the clothes on their back. They’ve been neglected and abused and they’re scared. After spending time at Sheltering Arms and receiving the much-needed care they deserve, it’s amazing the transformation you begin to see in these kids. They form bonds quickly with the other kids and the workers and after a little while, they’re playing and laughing.”
Kathy, a mother and grandmother herself, says that because of the hurt and abuse these children have already endured, they need a tremendous amount of loving care. Kathy says the staff and volunteers who make up the Sheltering Arms family are sincere and reliable in their mission to help these children on their way to a brighter future.
“In order for an organization like Sheltering Arms to be successful,” Kathy says, “it needs not only the spirit and determination to make it happen, but also the funding. We cater to these children’s needs and it’s very expensive.”
The staff at Sheltering Arms faces a $7,000 per month shortfall on basics alone. The five bedroom, 3-1/2 bath home is staffed 24 hours a day with counselors and volunteers, all there to support the children. The home is able to house 12 children, ages infant to 11 years, at any given time. The exception to the age rule is when siblings are brought in together. Each day, the kids are given nutritious meals and snacks, an arts and crafts hour, music, and other special-interest lessons. The children are also supplied with a variety of educational and community enrichment activities.
One issue facing Sheltering Arms now? The lack of a suitable van to transport the children. The center’s van was recently totaled when it was hit from behind.
“We just really need the support,” Kathy says. “There is no other place like this in Marion County. We provide these kids with the love, support, and stability they weren’t getting at home. One hundred percent of the funding we receive goes directly to helping the children.”
Since opening one year ago, Sheltering Arms has been filled to capacity, further pointing to the need for more funding.
“We’d like to have four or five houses like this in Marion County,” Kathy says. “These types of homes can eliminate many of the issues that arise when children are placed into the foster care system. This is an excellent opportunity to rehabilitate the system and make sure the kids are properly cared for. I’m setting my goals high. The kids deserve it.”
And Kathy is confident that our community will once again come through to help those in need. On this December 3, Ocala’s finest will join at Golden Ocala’s impressive clubhouse to celebrate the holiday season and raise funds for Sheltering Arms.
This regal event, dubbed the Diamond Gala, is a party like no other. Sparkling champagne greets the immaculately dressed guests as they cross the foyer. The never-ending buffet and carving stations are filled with elegant hors d’oeuvres, scintillating entrees, and sinfully rich desserts. An open bar will complement the various gourmet selections. Returning this year is the beautiful outdoor lounge area where guests can surround themselves with luxurious fabrics and cozy couches while enjoying the crisp night air.
In past years, auction items have included such unique prizes as a stay at Ocean Hammock Beach Resort in St. Augustine, a southern-style quail hunt for four, a Harley Davidson Roadster, and a private jet trip to Atlanta’s prestigious Buckhead community. This year’s live auction items should be just as spectacular.
Along with lively music and dancing, guests will enjoy amazing entertainment by colorful Cirque performers. Of course the true highlight of the evening is the diamonds themselves. Guests will have the chance to bid on or purchase the latest styles in jewelry — everything from gold and silver to colorful gemstones and, of course, diamonds.
“The Diamond Gala is a huge entertainment event with lots of sparkling jewels, dancing, and excitement,” Kathy says. “And the event happens to support an incredibly worthy cause. There are many extremely generous people out there and if they truly want to make a difference right in their own community, I can’t think of a more deserving organization than Sheltering Arms.”
Ocala Style’s 4th Annual Diamond Gala
$150 per person
To purchase tickets or make a donation to Sheltering Arms, call (352) 732-0073 ext. 101
Credit cards are accepted
By Karin Fabry