HORIZONS’ relationship with the CAN Council goes back to our earliest days. Since the late 1990s, we have hosted numerous events, from educational seminars to volunteer appreciation banquets to their annual Mardi Gras Auction. We recently sat down with Danielle Russell, CAN Council’s Development and Communications Director. Danielle and her team have been busily planning their 30th Mardi Gras Auction – which we are delighted to be hosting February 23 here at HORIZONS.
What does the Mardi Gras Auction support?
“The auction provides critical funding for child abuse prevention, intervention and advocacy services in Saginaw County. That’s everything from our Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), which provides expert forensic interviews for children who have been physically or sexually abused or have witnessed violence – to our CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) program, providing volunteer advocates for children who enter the court system because of abuse or neglect – to free child abuse prevention education for students and community members. Our educators go into classrooms and teach children about different forms of abuse and empower them to ask for help if they are in these situations. Our community programs teach adults to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child abuse. Unfortunately, prevention education like this is very difficult to fund. This year we are emphasizing the need for prevention, and asking our guests to rally around this program during our Fund-a-Need to ensure this important education is available to every student, parent and adult we can possibly reach.
Not every county has these services available to children and families. The incredible support of our community – and the magic that happens during Mardi Gras – allow us to continue this important work.”
Let’s talk about the event – what should people expect?
“We try to put a little bit of a carnival feel into the evening – you get to dress up, come out and have fun … and party like you’re in New Orleans (well, maybe not all the way). We’ll have New Orleans-style entertainment, a Southern cuisine-inspired menu and a contest for the best costume.
And then of course we will have silent and live auctions – giving guests the chance to bid on items procured primarily right here in this community. We have a whole committee that reaches for their best and biggest ideas to bring to the live auction. They put a lot of energy into getting fun and unique experiences. Our auctioneer builds that excitement while underlining the impact.
We also celebrate our Child Advocate of the Year – someone who has done extraordinary work for children in the community. This year, we’re honoring Anne Flegenheimer, who has been a longtime CASA volunteer for the CAN Council and really a lifelong advocate for children.”
Photos courtesy of Thor Rasmussen
Do you have any special memories from past events?
“In 2022, we were all excited to be back in person at HORIZONS and it ended up being a record year for us. We can attribute that to a number of factors – including returning sponsors after two years of pandemic uncertainty, and the items we had in our live auction were amazing. The vintage Mini Cooper caught a lot of attention and was a sight to see, and steer … right in the dining room. We auctioned off a Jedi Mind Trip private concert at Baynes and a Siesta Key vacation … those both went wild!
And I think people could just feel the energy in the room, especially with our Fund-A-Need. That’s where we talk about a need where there might be a shortfall in the budget. Last year, VOCA (Victims of Crime Act), had pulled all the CASA funding across the state. That’s a whole program we had to come up with funding for. We just looked to the crowd and we talked about how many kids are depending on our advocates, what these advocates do for the kids and how meaningful it is to the judge … and our guests made it happen for these kids – so much generosity. I always tear up during that part of the night. It’s very moving to see all the paddles go up in direct support – nothing won, no recognition … just a lot of people who are invested in the mission.”
How has HORIZONS helped your event be successful?
“Oh, in so many ways. Kiron, our event coordinator, is an absolute gem. By now, we’re like family! She’s extremely helpful and puts a lot of care into the menu, the layout and every last detail. When our auction started getting a little bigger, we expanded into two ballrooms. HORIZONS has been very generous with the amount of space and doing what they could to meet our needs while also keeping costs affordable. Kiron has never hesitated to bring us in for a site visit or to throw around new ideas and try different room layouts to accommodate more people – and raise more money.
Also, Rick on sound is always top notch. We put speakers all over the room and he comes in to work with our auctioneer to do a sound test. He is always ready with his ladder to hang our decorative masks and anything else we need. He just figures it out and he’s happy to do it.
Then the decorating team – they go all out and you can tell they have fun doing it. They even decorate our auction tables and help out with their creative ideas. We usually bring our totes and then they run with it. And of course, the linens are always beautiful.
Another memory that stands out is the kindness of our banquet manager, Steve. Event day can be pretty hectic … I’ll be at the stage, in the back of the house, getting pulled in every direction … it’s just the nature of events. When the night was coming to a close, Steve approached me with a bunch of takeout boxes and said, ‘You’ve been so busy tonight. I have not seen you eat or sit down. I just wanted to make sure that you left with some food tonight.’ I will never forget that!
Other than that … You let us drive a car in your ballroom last year!”
CAN Council’s 30th Annual Mardi Gras Auction presented by Garber Automotive, and sponsored in part by Amigo Mobility, will be held on Thursday, February 23, from 5:30 to 9:30p.m. here at HORIZONS. Sponsors and guests will gather for this festive celebration but most importantly raise their bid paddles, voices and critical dollars to close a funding gap for Child Abuse Prevention Education programs.
This year’s fundraiser is sold out. Join the fun from home by registering to bid online here. Learn more about CAN Council at cancouncil.org.