Ali Browne (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Jake Steinfeld (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Alma Nachawati (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Jan Miller (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Barbara Durham, Mary Potter (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Best Buddies Ambassador and Emcee Charles Calhoun (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Terry & Susan Anderson, Moll & Charlie Anderson (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Bebe Winans and Korean Soul performing (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Bebe Winans, Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Jan Miller & Jeff Rich (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Bill Durham, Jim Keyes, Steve Durham (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Jennifer Bianchi, Nikki Chu, TJ Winters (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Charlie & Moll Anderson (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Lacey Flannigan, Tyler Fisher, Bill Durham, Roni Proter (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Linda & Steve Ivy (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Lisa Smith performing (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Margretta Wilkert, Stephanie Bulger Guzeijka & Mike Guzeijka (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Parker & Carsen Lundgren, Trevor Johnson (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Stephanie Bulger Guzeijka, Madeline Braley, Alma Nachawati, Sumner Billingsley, Lucy Billingsley Burns and Lindsay Billingsley (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Sumner Billingsley, Amy Rush, Sarah Rush (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
It was a party that I had been looking forward to for weeks — the Best Buddies 2019 Gala. When an invite proclaims “Party Like It’s 1989!” with an image of a cassette tape, I’m immediately on board. My formative years were the ’80s
I will forever be obsessed with John Hughes films (check out my Instagram for a picture of me and Long Duck Dong from Sixteen Candles), Drakkar Noir cologne and sitcoms like The Golden Girls and Designing Women (I often want to channel my inner Julia Sugarbaker). And most of all the music. I could listen to New Order, Duran Duran, Siouxsie and the Banshees forever (much to the chagrin of many of my friends who I force to listen to new wave classics in my car).
Best Buddies was founded in 1989, making this year the 30th anniversary of the organization and they decided to channel the vibe of their first year.
Me and my date for the night, Christopher Wood, decided we needed to pull out anything from our closets for the evening that seemed appropriate for a guest star appearance on Miami Vice. The Bomb Factory was a sell-out scene with all of the supporters of Best Buddies in attendance. The charity is the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Through their programs, Best Buddies helps individuals with IDD secure meaningful jobs, live independently and contribute to society.
Thankfully we weren’t the only ones who traveled back to the era of Ronald Reagan and shoulder pads. I noticed quite a few Madonnas in the crowd (props to Ali Browne for looking the most like the Material Girl).
Eyes remained on the stage for most of the evening due to the lineup of incredible performers and speakers. One of the first was Best Buddies founder Anthony Kennedy Shriver, who spoke of his longtime passion and commitment to the organization. Recognizing the tremendous volunteer potential of university students, Shriver first inspired his college peers at Georgetown University to personally collaborate in expanding the realm of opportunities that people with IDD could experience. He then welcomed to the podium the honorary chairs, well-known philanthropists Jan Miller and her husband Jeff Rich, and Bill Durham.
Zachary Siegel, a senior at Lebanon Trail High School and president of the Best Buddies chapter on his campus, also gave a shout out to the crowd and thanked them for their support. He went on to share the story of meeting his best friend, Jace Nyland Rathke.
They met four years prior at the annual Best Buddies leadership conference in Indiana. The two can often be found at Chilis’s catching-up or at DFW airport watching planes go by. His poignant comment that Best Buddies is “aimed at creating friendships with people who for so long have never had the opportunity to do so. Regardless of name or need, everyone deserves friendships that will help them with employment, social skills and self-advocacy.
“After all, what are friends for?”
With that more applause erupted as well as a few tears of joy.
Some of the other Best Buddies that spoke this evening included Ann Marie Carrigan star of the movie Normie and a married couple who both have Down Syndrome, Christi and Austin Davenport. Christi and Austin showed the audience that even though they might have challenges, they are like any other husband and wife team. They support one another, make one another laugh and hope to inspire others to share a bond of love like theirs.
Performers that got the audience pumped for the night and the cause included Bebe Winans and Korean Soul. Carsen Lundgren sang “Happy Birthday” and “Tennessee Whiskey” with Mars Hill. Some of the buddies participating were Rex Lewis Clark, who is blind and autistic, playing the piano and Marla VanHoose, who performed with Mars Hill.
An auction added an assortment of artwork to the ’80s scene. It felt like what I envisioned as an exhibition of 1980s avant-garders Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat at the famed NYC nightclub the Mudd Club. Artists who donated pieces included Brian Chaffin, LaToya Jones, Jay Shinn, Page Goss, Kris Ammo — and Buddy Artists Julian Dounley, Austin Davenport and Charlie French.
My best-dressed award for the evening ended in a three-way tie: Moll Anderson (PaperCity‘s February 2019 Bomb girl), Capera Ryan and Maxine Trowbridge. None of them went full-on ’80s, but all looked glorious and glittering, fitting since the event raised $838,000 for Best Buddies.
Guests feeling the ’80s vibe that night included Lindsay and George Billingsley, Lucy and Henry Billingsley, Lucy and Tom Burns, Shelly and Barry Rosenberg, Tavia and Clark Hunt, Julianna and Chris LeBlanc, and Hattie Hill.