The McNight to Remember Gala was held in November with a theme of 'Around the World in 80 Days.' The Gala was presented by La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries, exploring international escapades and intrigue, including Victorian ambiance and a whirlwind expedition inspired by the global travels of Englishman Phileas Fogg. A gourmet dinner, silent auction and the possibility to win a fabulous vacation awaited the over 750 guests. The idea behind the Gala is to raise much-needed funds for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central and Northern Arizona. This support will provide a “home-away-from-home” for families to stay together and close to the medical resources they need.
The Ronald McDonald houses in Arizona, and nationwide, are a pillar of the community, providing comfort and support to families who are seeking much-needed medical care at nearby facilities for their children. Chairmen of the Gala, U-Haul Vice President Sebastien Reyes and La-Z-Boy Arizona Vice President Chris Bates brought their vast knowledge of the Arizona community and their passion for philanthropy to this event and carry it through to their daily involvement in the houses.
"I originally got involved with the house (in Phoenix) by making a wrong turn during a UHaul excursion. Both our UHaul location and the main Ronald McDonald house are located on the same street, and it was the sudden realization that they were out neighbors that excited me. They are the best-kept secret in the valley; and I thought, 'How can we help? 'After all, it’s the Arizona way," Sebastien says.
Many who stay at the Ronald McDonald house here in Arizona, are from out of state because treatment for their children may only exist in Scottsdale or Phoenix. Sebastien reflects on the fact that Arizona is a medical destination with great care and research facilities and even those from out of state may be a UHaul client, as their stretch is national. In that vein, he feels his connection with these families is two-fold.
Sebastien shares a story that resonated with him at the house, "My wife and I have two young children, and while they are healthy, we see ourselves in these parents' shoes. One great opportunity at the house is for groups, companies or churches to serve dinner to the families. Many charities do not allow for the philanthropist to interact directly with those they seek to help, but with Ronald McDonald houses, we get that engaging opportunity which is so special. I've gotten so much out of these dinners because I see that there is nothing like a hot meal to bring people together. I was there last week for a dinner and met a mother who had a newborn at Phoenix Children's Hospital. She was going through a rough time and had other children in tow. This house provided the access needed for transportation, the ability to have a safe space and of course, the ability to be close to her baby. In a time of trauma and devastation, the house provided normalcy, and that can change the trajectory of her life."
Chris Bates and his family have served in the community for years, however, there is a certain special place in his heart for the Ronald McDonald houses.
"When La-Z-Boy became the official furniture provider for Ronald McDonald House Charities, I found myself volunteering more and more at the house. It became clear when I had the opportunity to join the board, that it was a perfect match. I currently serve as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors for RMHC Central & Northern Arizona in addition to Vice President of Marketing and Merchandising for La-Z-Boy Arizona."
Chris mirrors Sebastien's sentiment about the houses being a 'home away from home" for so many families. During his time as a Board Member for RMHC he had the opportunity to attend and support several Galas, and seeing the event grow through support of its important mission was, and still is, rewarding.
"The care and work that goes into planning a wonderful event is inspiring and knowing the benefits it brings to families and the house are very important. It’s an honor to serve the families and the community by now being the Gala Chairman."
On a personal note, Chris shares an experience he had meeting one of the families in the Phoenix house, and how it taught him so much about strength.
"Recently I spoke with a family that was staying at the house for the fourth time receiving scheduled treatment as part of their child’s road to recovery. I am always inspired by the strength that I see in the children and the comfort the house, volunteers and staff bring to the families."
A board meeting at Ronald McDonald House charities starts with a meaningful mission that will surely carry through in the Gala and fundraising efforts for 2019-20. The Board invites someone from the house to come in and share his or her story. This keeps the Board centered in their work, and it reminds them of the good fortune they have to engage with these families.
"The first family I met was from Tennessee and was here on a 'babymoon.' The wife went into labor early and they found themselves here in Arizona for a longer period of time so the premature infant could receive care at Phoenix Children's Hospital. I found myself putting myself in their shoes and this was the moment I knew this was for me," Sebastien says.
This year's Gala raised more than $680,000 which will benefit the many families seeking assistance from this important organization.