Upon entering the Panzacola ballroom, guests were whisked away into a world of fantasy placing them back to their childhood days of being on the schoolyard. I walked the red carpet entrance only to realize that at the end of my path stood a beautiful woman wearing a bright red dress – a dress that I had apparently been walking on for the past 30 feet! I offered up my apologies immediately, but her forgiving smile gently encouraged me to proceed further into the VIP room. As I stood there, 2 lovely stilt-walkers wearing long flowing dresses seemed to glide past me, welcoming me to this evening’s event. A server asked me if I wanted an hors d'oeuvres, and to my side stood a bartender offering me a drink. In the distance I could hear a young orchestral quartet playing classical pieces softly in the corner. In the middle of this enchantment, a silent auction was taking place on items that had been collected over the course of the past year, and its winning bids would someday be used to provide resources and surplus materials FREE to a teacher and a student in need.
I proceed to the main dining room area, where some 500 distinguished guests will be sitting down soon. The lights dim, and some film footage is shown to announce our next celebrity – it’s the world’s fastest painter, Rock Demarco! Demarco is a famed artist known for his lightning fast giant paintings, using his Edward Scissorhands-esque, 4-paintbrush glove. Accompanied by his ‘Paint It Loud’ rock band guitarist, Jesse Mayhem, Demarco steps up to the stage and quickly transforms a blank canvas into a portrait of Albert Einstein. Chris Kirkpatrick takes the stage, and the auction begins. Demarco’s 3-minute creation sells for an astounding $4,000! Excellent, because for every $1 donated, A Gift For Teaching can provide $10 worth of school supplies.
Alfonso Ribeiro is introduced to the stage. He is relating well to the audience, speaking of the history of the Carlton Dance being a reference to an old Eddie Murphy bit, and how he tried once (unsuccessfully) to have Tom Jones hook him up to attend a show in Vegas. Nonetheless, Ribeiro was on a mission tonight. Last year, Saved By the Bell’s Dennis Haskins (Mr. Belding) was able to encourage the audience into donating $15,000. Throwing out the mantra to ‘Beat Belding’ Ribeiro quickly led the crowd into pulling out their smart phones and making a donation. With a live-feed showing us our pledge amounts on 2 large projection screens, supporters quickly rose to the ‘Beat Belding’ mindset, intent on shattering last year’s pace. In just about 7 minutes on this evening, Ribeiro and the audience were able to raise over $20K!
At one point tonight, A Gift For Teaching’s founder (Gary Landwirth) and current President (Jane Thompson) took the stage remarking how far along the organization had come since its inception in 1998. With all of tonight’s celebrities, performers, and supporters, A Gift For Teaching’s Back to School Blast certainly gets an A+ on its report card for tonight!