Sideshows, committed corporate sponsors and a little bit of magic helped raise funds at United Way of Marion County’s circus-themed Community Care Gala on January 30th.
“Our CEO is very passionate about their Strong Families program,” said attendee Stephanie Gouin, compliance coordinator and co-chair of charitable donations for Signature Brands, which makes popcorn tins and sprinkles and icing in pouches/cans in Ocala. The program helps families achieve financial stability.
“That’s one of our pillars for charitable donations with the company,” Gouin said.
About 200 people attended the event, held at the Circle Square Cultural Center, including sponsors DeLuca Toyota, AdventHealth Ocala, CenterState bank and the City of Ocala. The money raised supports United Way’s 22 local agency partners.
“We sponsor their events because they do such great work in the community,” said Carmen Garcia, a talent acquisition specialist for Sitel Group, a global company that does tech support and financial services in Ocala since 2012.
Guests helped themselves to the buffet—catered by Decadence A La Carte Catering—and moved around the room to catch the various sideshows. Magician Brandon Smith perform tricks and stilt-walker Mike Weakley juggled and took selfies with guests, as circus music played.
Ilianette Hernandez, career center manager of CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion, was in line with her husband, Angel Hernandez, excited to get her cards read by the fortune teller. “We support United Way, I support United Way, all through the year,” she said.
April Moyer, who is a database and engagement specialist for United Way of Marion County, served as the evening’s fortune teller. With her crystal ball, she foretold of a fun evening for all.
Retired ringmaster Brian LaPalme emceed. LaPalme is also a United Way ReadingPal volunteer. ReadingPal helps kindergartners in 19 Marion County schools improve their reading skills. The students also get 28 books for their home library, said Jessica Nisbett, United Way donor relations director and the event organizer.
“It’s made a really big difference for the lives of the students we’re working with,” Nisbett said. Early intervention is key to helping students succeed. Publix Super Markets, who had representatives at the gala, fund the ReadingPal program.
For the main event, Cirque-tacular Productions’ acrobatic duo climbed, twisted and posed on a white silk rope that hung from the ceiling. They did a comedic sketch in which one of the acrobats put a giant white balloon on her head, which eventually consumed her body until she popped it and exited, surprising and delighting guests.
The night was capped off with three short speeches by Scot Quintel, United Way president; Jim Henningsen, United Way’s annual giving campaign chair and Central College of Florida president and Bill Paul, United Way’s board chair and Ocala’s operations site director for Lockheed Martin.
“We are making a difference in Marion County,” Paul said to big whoops and applause. “There are so many people in this room that have done so much for United Way for so long and, again, I want to thank everyone of you for that,” he said.