Oh what a night

“It takes real planning to organize this kind of chaos.”
— Mel Odom

This winter season I have had the privilege to be part of not one but three awesome events in the city. My volunteering with North York Women’s Shelter allowed me to help organize and also enjoy a wonderful night celebrating women at the Shine Charity Gala, my day job had me running around in the chaos of the 10th Anniversary Chief’s Gala in support of Victim Services Toronto, and my journey to self-acceptance and body confidence brought me to the Body Love Ball by Body Confidence Canada. Each event was a celebration in support of wonderful organizations in the city I now call home and each one was special in their own way. Now that the chaos of these nights is well passed I thought I would share each of them with all of you.

Shine Charity Gala

(Credit: Shay Markowitz with @bluetrailcreative)

The Shine Charity Gala is the event I’ve been looking forward to for the longest time of the three. I started volunteering with North York Women’s Shelter as part of their gala committee back in the Spring and have had the privilege of working alongside some brilliant and hardworking women in the past many months who really made sure the gala turned out lovely.

As it was the earliest in the month it was officially the first gala I’ve ever been too. In fact, I have a hard time thinking of any events that I’ve attended that could be lumped into the same fancy category. The dress code was cocktail and unfortunately the dress I wanted to wear no longer fit but I salvaged the night with a favourite plaid dress and a petticoat.

The best part of the Shine gala for me was the fact that I got to spend it with my mom and my best friend. The evening started with us wandering around the reception to beautiful covers played on the violin. We grabbed our drinks, hit up the photo booth, and took a look at all the great items on the silent auction. I got outbid on everything I tried to go for but my mom brought home two bundles.

After some time we were welcomed downstairs to dinner. The silent auction continued via tablets on our tables while the courses were served and the welcoming addresses were made. The MC for the night was Toronto based Actor- Burlesque Performer-Emcee and Writer Dainty Smith. She was charming and knew how to pull a laugh out of the crowd when the programming didn’t go perfectly. She was accompanied by two lovely women from her burlesque troupe who performed to close off the end of the night. Additionally, there was a video preview of the project the former residents at the shelter have been working on, and Tiffany Hsiung ended the night with a look at the trailer for her acclaimed documentary The Apology which follows the stories of three former “comfort women” who were among the 200,000 girls and young women kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

10th Anniversary Chief’s Gala

One of the things I talked about in my first volunteering interview with Victim Services Toronto was how I like event planning and that I’d be happy to help out with the annual Chief’s Gala. Fast forward ten months later and I was surprised to find myself working and attending the gala with my co-workers. The weeks leading up to the event were organized chaos at best, with last minute orders of walkie talkies and auction paddles, and initialization and unpacking of 40 point of sales machines. Our office became a war zone of silent auction items and event materials.

The day before the gala a team of us headed down to the venue to set up. We stuffed pins, pens, and keychains into stemless wine glasses, we organized team boxes for the volunteers, made plans for decor, and tied ribbon onto 100 stuffed animals. As it turns out, as a lefty, I’m quite inadequate in ribbon tying so I was left in charge of cutting the 100 yards into 35 inch strands instead. It was a long day with a delicious pizza lunch and a lot of laughs.

The next day was even longer.

Now technically our shifts did not start until 3:30pm but I think my day began around 10am and I was up much earlier than that just due to excitement. I couldn’t wait to see how everything turned out and what the room looked like with 1,000 people.

But first I had to get ready.

Of the three events I attended this winter, the Chief’s gala was by far the fanciest. While the outfits seen throughout the night really ranged, there was definitely wiggle room where wearing a full length gown was not out of the ordinary. And why not take the opportunity? When I was in New York we went looking to see if we could find a new dress for this particular gala, hoping I wouldn’t have to wear just one of my dresses that I wear all the time. By some luck it was the very first dress I tried on in T. J. Maxx that ended up being the one I brought home. It was nothing like I’ve ever worn before; a slim flowing bodice with a slit up the one side, and a high neckline that cut in. It was meant to be a joke when I pulled it off the rack but when I put it on I was pleasantly surprised.

After a mishap with exploding liquid liner and some debate over shoes I headed out to pick up flowers and to meet one of my co-workers. By the time we arrived there were a few things left to do and volunteers to train but else wise we were ready. Soon enough the guests started to arrive and from there the rest of the night sped by quicker than I could have ever imagined.

I spent the first hour helping sell stuffed versions of our trauma dog Dandy. It was kind of hilarious watching everyone walk around with their little stuffies while mixing and mingling. I also ran into a couple that I had given a ghost tour for earlier in the year which was all kinds of funny. The hour went by quickly with lots of people giving wonderfully generous donations to our Trauma Dog Program and with a quick hello to Chief Saunders himself.

After the reception we scuttled into the ballroom for dinner. Our MC for the evening was Ben Mulroney of etalk and Canadian Idol fame. We heard opening remarks from him, some of the sponsors, and Toronto’s Mayor John Tory.

My one regret of the night is not getting to eat more of the main course. The beef was probably one of the best things I’ve ever tasted but we had a live auction to prepare for so a few quick bites and we were up on our feet while Kayla Diamond gave a special performance for the evening. If you haven’t heard her hit song Carnival Hearts you should give it a listen, it’s quite beautiful.

The live auction was actually a lot of fun, even though it was chaotic. We were auctioning off some very unique experiences like a Jays game with the Chief or a fishing trip with the former Chief. I cashed out some of the big ticket items and it was kind of overwhelming just knowing some people’s credit card limits are that high. It was also exhilarating knowing that that money was going to support our clients and our programs.

The most powerful part of the evening was when one of my coworkers shared her experience with Victim Services Toronto. She provided the context and meaning of the work I see our Crisis Team do every single day. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of the agency I work for.

Unlike the other events I was a guest at, the night ended with much left to do. Our volunteers were the unsung heroes of the evening, helping with each and everything they could, staying even as the party wound down and there were only a few of us left. Boxes were packed, cars were loaded, and at some point my shoes were ditched and left to the side. I left with a smile on my face and hope to play an even bigger part in the evening next year.

Body Love Ball

This little exploration will be short and sweet because I actually have quite a longer post coming about this event and what it meant to me. But just to introduce you to what the Body Love Ball is, I figured I’d give you a little preview.

Back in October I shared this image on the Victim Service’s media account, giving credit to the creators as you always should when reposting art or any sort of creation. And because I tagged Body Confidence Canada in the post they replied back to it, saying they hoped to see us at the ball. Naturally, the entirety of my organization wasn’t about to show up but that didn’t mean I couldn’t go. A few texts later and a look at the outrageously generous pricing for early bird VIP tickets, and we decided this was something we wanted to do.

The ball was originally scheduled for the end of October but it ended up getting reschedule until December, making it our wrap up of the gala season. It was a night of empowerment, beauty, and a whole lot of fun dancing and singing along to the music. To top it all off I got to spend the evening with my best friend feeling good about our bodies and loving life. More on that to come!

(Credit: Nancy Kim @ NSB Photography)

So that was my winter season. It was certainly much more exciting and extravagant than it usually is. Each of these events were truly a unique experience and I hope you enjoyed hearing about them. Stay tuned for more regular Sunday posts. Happy holidays!

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