Stronger Together Gala
by, Bill Birch
Los Encinos’ 40th Anniversary Gala was scheduled for May 30th, 2020, with big plans to create an incredible event filled with both fundraising and friend-raising. We had our sights set on the ballroom at the Skirball Center where members of our LES community from the past four decades would reunite and celebrate Los Encinos School’s forty years of “Thinking Big & Starting Small.”
And then, a little thing called “COVID” arrived on the scene and we were forced to postpone our Gala as Los Angeles entered its first lock-down. As we moved into this new unknown of quarantines, many in our community started to feel the effects of the pandemic financially. That’s when we knew we needed to do one of the things LES does best, take care of those who need it, this time in our own community.
We quickly moved to produce a virtual event that would replace our anniversary gala with all the monies raised to be ear-marked to help keep our community “whole” during this unprecedented time.
Our event, Stronger Together, ended up being live on Zoom with several pre-recorded elements, on May 16th, 2020. It was billed as, “A virtual and absolutely real celebration of community.”
In true Los Encinos fashion, the gala easily lived up to that billing. Countless people stepped up to produce this hour-long “telethon” with plenty of humor, touching videos, incredible music, exciting auction items, and more.
Our Auction Chair, Harriet Ching, oversaw our silent auction once again and once again she outdid herself. Thanks to her, and all the members of our community who solicited donations, we were able to raise close to $60,000 from auctioned items alone.
Much appreciation goes out to Gavin Rossdale and members of his band, Bush; Brian Posehn and his family; as well as Nikka Costa & Justin Stanley, all of whom donated their time and talents to enhance the show. A special thank-you to our own Director of Communications, Jay Falk, who worked tirelessly shooting and editing many of the events’ entertaining and emotional videos.
We don’t have space in this column to list everybody by name, but – last but not least – Doug Shellow, Nicole Pennington, and Jonathan Beckmann deserve big kudos for keeping things running smoothly behind-the-scenes on show night. One benefit of a virtual event is that all-of-the-above’s talented contributions still live on to this day and can be viewed below. See the Closing Credits video for a more complete list of the awesome people who made the night possible. (Ed. Note: Bill Birch humbly left himself off of the thank-you list. His on-camera promotional and hosting talents, not to mention his writing and producing efforts – the hilarious opening video is but one example – were crucial to the tone and success of the event.)
As we moved into the fundraising portion of the evening, our Board President, Angie Platt, made a moving appeal to donate to the Stronger Together Fund. It was during this time that the generosity of our community took center stage. Urbana Chapa & Philip Lawrence announced their “$50,000 challenge” – if we could raise $50,000, their family would match it with another $50,000! The gratitude directed to them through our little Zoom boxes and in the chat was heart-warming.
They made a challenge and the community accepted! Donations came in from friends, alumni, grandparents, parents, alumni parents, and even some future parents whose children weren’t even starting until the fall! With the $50,000 match easily triggered, we ultimately raised over $140,000 in just under one hour which pushed our fundraising total to over $200,000! Because of our community’s selflessness, that $200,000 would go on to give some relief to many of our families and would allow their children to continue to receive the gift of an LES education.
For forty years, the Los Encinos community has been something special, and this night was another shining example. We may be small in size, but we are big in heart! And if this pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that our LES community truly is stronger together!