Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians,
Peace be with you. I pray daily that each of you, my family and friends, our talented, dedicated staff, and all those who support our organization and mission remain safe and do as well as possible during this on-going, dreadful health crisis.
It has been a most challenging, exhausting six months. Covid-19 has crushed many organizations – for profit and Not-for-Profit alike. Even though our Council has surely been bloodied by it, we remain “in the ring” and faithful to our mission.
Our nation has a long and glorious tradition of meeting national crises together. Crises can bring out the best in us. Think September 11, 2001. At that unprecedented moment of crisis, every nook and cranny in our nation featured American flags, homemade banners that read “God Bless America”, and a prevailing attitude of rallying together.
The current crisis, however, presents a fundamentally different threat. It has ripped through businesses, schools, sports, and even religious services. Every family has been affected, some far more so than others. Parking lots remain strangely empty, shops are closed, countless special events have been cancelled, sports are taking place without spectators, and masks and social distancing, among many other peculiarities, has necessarily become the temporary norm.
People feel vulnerable; and the uncertainty of “how much longer” makes it so frustrating and difficult to plan. But even this crisis presents so many opportunities to respond to it with compassion, friendship, and service to others. That is what we are trying to do every day at SVdPD.
We cannot wait for “better days.” Our Vincentian beliefs call on us to stay focused on our mission during abnormally challenging times. Doing so allows us to see daily that this crisis can bring out the best in us. To do that, we need to improvise, e.g. new ways to serve, new ways to “assemble”.
Inaugural Top Hat Gala – October 2019
As you may recall, last October, we celebrated a hugely successful inaugural Top Hat Ball. More than 400 attended the gala; and the inspirational Cardinal Joseph William Tobin attended as our very special guest and keynote speaker. Cardinal Tobin, himself a Vincentian, gave a superb presentation.
As this year began, we were enthusiastically planning and preparing for our encore Top Hat Ball. And then Covid-19 hit. We quickly concluded that having a celebratory gathering of many hundreds of guests in October was simply ill-advised. Initially, we contemplated cancelling the event as we had done earlier this summer with our annual golf outing.
But Covid-19 has also caused an alarming spike in need among our neighbors. In that regard, St. Vincent de Paul quite clearly taught that it is not enough simply to do charity well. To remain loyal to our Vincentian mission, we must also practice fiscal responsibility and avoid mission drift. Otherwise, our capacity to help others can get severely limited. Looking ahead, that is clearly not where we want to be as this crisis (and others) continues to take its frightening toll.
So we quickly concluded that we needed to improvise. We still needed to plan. But we also needed to remain nimble, e.g. when necessary, we must pivot on a dime. That is precisely what we have done in regard to this important, annual fundraiser.
Our Top Hat “Un-Gala” – Friday, October 2, 2020
Our primary annual fundraising event has gone virtual, which means that you can enjoy it from the safety and comfort of your home! We are incredibly excited about our event! These days, people are gathering digitally through book clubs, study groups, family and community groups, social services, volunteer groups, and for many other reasons. Doing so is a safe, innovative way to promote a sense of community. How fitting as we all suffer from bouts of vulnerability!
We could have planned a virtual gathering that simply brought Vincentians and guests together. That would have been fun. To be sure, our Un-Gala will bring us “together” virtually. But our “Un-Gala” will do more. It will also provide an opportunity to advance our Vincentian mission and grow spiritually.
A. Advancing Our Vincentian Mission
Our Un-Gala will allow us to have fun and celebrate the gift of friendship. It has also been designed to help us to grow spiritually. How essential is that in today’s society? Blessed Frederic Ozanam reminded us that:
“The question which is agitating the world today is a social one. It is a struggle between those who have nothing and those who have too much. It is a violent clash of opulence and poverty which is shaking up the ground under our feet. Our duty as Christians is to throw ourselves between these two groups in order to accomplish by love what justice alone cannot do.”
People who wish to be leaders must have a compelling vision of what our organization can become, e.g. see the possible. This means being honest about where our organization finds itself currently and being mindful about needed constructive change within our Society. It means having a plan to renew individuals in their respective roles so that they can, in turn, help renew the organization’s inspirational mission and also seek innovative ways to fulfill it.. Our program is designed to promote that important objective through a conversation among a truly extraordinary group.
B. A Timely Panel Discussion
Consistent with our Vincentian Rule and the advice of Blessed Frederic, we decided to do something more than other virtual events. In light of what has been happening in our country, our Top Hat Un-Gala will feature a panel discussion that explores the relationship between social justice and developing a more inclusive sense of community. As importantly, it will include how SVdPD can contribute to building a more equitable, inclusive community through service and friendship.
Accordingly, we have assembled a national panel of experts that consists of our SVDP National Spiritual Advisor, Bishop Donald J. Hying, Kylee Mitchell Wells from the Ballmer Group; and Father Greg Boyle, S.J. from Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. Pulitzer Prize journalist, Stephen Henderson, host of WDET’s Detroit Today, will serve as Moderator. Their remarkable journeys have been dedicated to social justice and broadening the concept of community. They surely met challenge and adversity along the way. But they persevered and prevailed. We are most grateful and truly thrilled that these esteemed, impactful individuals have agreed to participate.
We need to prepare ourselves to serve by growing spiritually. The panel discussion we have planned and the extraordinary moderator and panel members we have assembled to discuss the topic will help us to do so. It is going to be awesome!
Community is a powerful collective noun. St. Paul taught that our faith must take actual form in a living, loving group of people. Otherwise, love remains just a theory. Community is love in action. It should be about healing and inclusion, not exclusion or judgment. By way of one of many examples, Covid-19 has clearly resulted in hunger to rise, classrooms to close, and parental stress to skyrocket. The existential threat to children in poverty – not a traditional Vincentian service in this Archdiocese – is real and consequential. Practically speaking, especially at a time when home visits are not possible, should these beautiful children be part of our Detroit Council community? If so, how could our Detroit Vincentian Council help? Clearly, pursuant to the advice of St. Vincent de Paul himself, any such effort would first have to be carefully planned and funded.
Our faith and Vincentian tenets urge us to explore this and many other challenges that undermine our sense of community. Jesus had a fundamental vision—belief that all people are “children of God.” Herein lies why concepts of social justice and an inclusive concept of community are so inextricably intertwined. Indeed, our humanity depends upon everyone’s humanity.
In their own, exquisite way, our panelists and moderator have dedicated their remarkable lives to exploring and advancing the concept of community. They will generously share their insights as part of our program.
This is why our Top Hat “Un-Gala” will be fun and so much more!
C. Ways To Help
In addition to fun and spiritual growth, a final, obvious reason exists on why this event will be so important; and this is where we need each of YOU! Covid-19 has severely impacted our finances. We, therefore, have a duty to restore ourselves as we prepare for what lies ahead. That includes financial stability. We are deeply grateful to Weingartz, Inc. and to Magna International for being our Co-Event Sponsors, and for all who have chosen to sponsor our event at some level. Heartfelt thanks, all!
Any sound development plan is built on finding new donors and beginning the process of building those relationships so that they turn into habitual donors and major givers. Having a way to replace the donors who choose to leave us is extremely important, too. It is important to remember that all fundraising supports our entire Council and allows us to do the work that supports our neighbors in need.
Events like the Top Hat Ball are opportunities for current supporters, staff, and volunteers to introduce their friends to St. Vincent de Paul Detroit. It’s a way for them to share with their friends and acquaintances the joy and passion they have for SVdPD and invite them to support us, too. It also provides us the opportunity to drive brand awareness and a deep connection to who we are and what we do.
Top Hat – even virtually – “brings together” board members, donors, volunteers and new prospects and engages them in ways we cannot do in other situations. If orchestrated well, an event like Top Hat can raise significant funds. While we are raising funds, the event gives our audience a chance to experience the many services we provide to those in need.
Tickets for our event are a modest $25. Please go to www.TopHatBall.com for ticket information, ordering, and event information. That nominal fee will allow access to our program. Our hope and expectation is that each person who chooses to attend will pay the fee. Moreover, unlike a live event, we can invite family, friends, and acquaintances from all over the country and the world! If your friends, family, or acquaintances have an e-mail address, they can “attend”, too!
Our goal is to attract far more guests than last year! To do that, however, we need your help. Please spread the word and encourage anyone and everyone you know to consider attending. Imagine, if each of our roughly 3500 Vincentians purchased a “virtual ticket” and brought just one other family member or friend, that alone would result in 7000 attendees! Vincentians, just listening to Bishop Hying alone – a truly gifted speaker – is more than worth the ticket price! See the possible!
If you are unable to attend, you can still participate. For example, there will be an online auction available during the entire week of September 27th. Once again, go to www.TopHatBall.com for event details.
Please help spread the word! Donate gifts, find willing sponsors and donors, and raise awareness to help best position our Council financially for the opportunities and challenges that surely lie ahead. This is a practical way to advance our Vincentian mission of helping neighbors in need. Heartfelt thanks in advance for choosing to do so.
Our nation and hometown are rapidly approaching an inflection point. Covid-19 may hover over our society like a dark, ominous cloud for months to come, perhaps much longer. Its impact already has been devastating to so many; and its duration remains a haunting mystery. The future remains shrouded in uncertainty.
But one thing is certain: needs for basic services are surely spiking alarmingly. We must remain committed to doing what we can to help. That requires financial stability.
To be prepared for what lies ahead, therefore, we need to have a successful Top Hat “Un-Gala” fundraiser. Our very talented, dedicated Top Hat “Un-Gala” team led by our exceptional Director of Development, Keith Koppmeier, and our gifted consultant, Scott Bettinger, of Echo Media has planned an entertaining, thought provoking, and very reasonably priced event. For Top Hat to reach its enormous potential, we need a full team effort. YOU are an important member of our team. Won’t you help as best you can?
We have faced crises before. Once again, albeit using innovative ways, we will get through this crisis as well. As we do, will our appreciation of social justice, our mindfulness of a more inclusive concept of community, and our understanding of and commitment to Vincentian values grow?
Together, let’s make Friday, October 2, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. an historic occasion for our Council. Hope to “see” you there. Best wishes to all of you. Please stay safe. God bless you, your families, and all those you love.
In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,