The University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Center in Portland sparkled with the colors of the season during Opportunity Farm’s Centennial Gala & Auction held Oct. 1. Shimmery orange organza tablecloths, flickering candles and plump pumpkins added a festive feel to the academic space.

More than 200 guests gathered at the party to celebrate 100 years of Opportunity Farm and raise money to support the 16 children who are unable to live with their biological families and instead find a welcoming home at the farm.

In honor of the significant anniversary, the organization’s donors really stepped it up, raising almost $100,000 at the party to support the children.

Located high atop a hill in New Gloucester, the picturesque farm offers a structured environment, where studying, chores and fun activities all get equal attention. The results of the farm’s caring touch were visible to all guests, who were greeted by some of the well-spoken and confident kids who call Opportunity Farm home.

“One of the first skills they learn at the farm is how to shake people’s hands and look them in the eye,” board member Stephanie Takes-Desbiens told me. “It’s great to be able to give them a hand up.”

When I caught up with Curt Scribner, who chairs the board of trustees, he told me that “there’s an intimacy of the family model. The kids are living in a home, in a family environment.”

I heard further evidence of the positive influence Opportunity Farm has on the young people who live there from Susie Cole and Annette Beebe. Both live in Gray and used to teach in the Gray-New Gloucester school system, where the Opportunity Farm kids attend school. Cole and Beebe told me what a pleasure it was to work with the Opportunity Farm students.

“The kids are so great,” confirmed party co-chair Karen Watterson, who got involved in the organization with a little prodding from her neighbors Tim and Howsie Stewart.

In addition to drinks and hors d’oeuvres, the party’s cocktail reception allowed guests to view and bid on 15 pieces of art inspired by the farm. Around 7 p.m., we all found our tables and enjoyed a harvest dinner that included pumpkin bread, butternut squash ravioli in a sage cream sauce, chicken breasts with an orange-rhubarb sauce and cinnamon spiced pork with brandied apples.

During dinner, I had the pleasure of sitting at the table of party co-chair Amy Hawkes. Hawkes happens to be an interior designer, which helps explain why the party decor was so fabulous. Also at the table were her husband, Jody MacDonald, her brother Peter Hawkes, her sister-in-law Liz Hawkes and friends Takes-Desbiens, Don Desbiens and Kathleen Coffin. We all enjoyed a lot of laughs as we talked about a wide range of topics, including the joys of landlording and the growing availability of gluten-free foods.

After dinner, everyone adjourned to the lecture hall for the live auction.

To start us off, Scribner offered a toast to the organization’s longevity and guests raised glasses of sparkling cider.

“Opportunity Farm for 100 years has been about people caring about people,” Scribner said to the crowd.

Next, bid numbers were drawn at random and guests were awarded door prizes. When Tim Stewart won a hot air balloon ride, I heard him remark, “They say I’m full of hot air.”

Then Tom Saturley of Tranzon Auction Properties got the live auction under way, with his signature style that mixes aggressive salesmanship with a good sense of humor. Many items brought in four figures.

Midway through the auction, Saturley halted the bidding to remind guests that it costs more than $40,000 a year to care for a child at Opportunity Farm. He then asked those in attendance to raise up their bidder numbers to donate an extra $100 to the farm, which would be matched by L.L. Bean. The auditorium quickly became a sea of white bidder cards.

The motivation for such generosity was clear and was articulated well by Sarah Halpin, who works for the party’s lead sponsor, The Danforth Group.

“Opportunity Farm provides a safe, supportive and crucial home,” Halpin said. “Opportunity Farm shapes lives. It provides that vital human ingredient: Hope.”

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

[email protected]