Drinks, food and auctions are fundraising staples. But a private jet waiting to whisk raffle winners off on an all-expense-paid trip to New York City right then and there? Only at the Maine Suitcase Party to benefit Camp Sunshine.
“Isn’t this one of the best parties in Portland?” said John Hatcher, an agent with sponsor organization Keller Williams Realty. “It’s the anticipation of randomly choosing two people and their guests to get on the jet.”
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that few people can take advantage of,” said Jim Iacono of Maine Aviation Corporation, which donated the use of the hangar, pilots and flight service.
More than 525 partygoers raised $70,000 for Camp Sunshine, a national retreat on Sebago Lake for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
“It’s amazing that they can raise that much money all at once,” said guest Teddi Plumley of Limington.
Guests at the second annual Suitcase Party at Portland Jetport walked the red carpet and had their photos taken as they entered the hangar-turned-nightclub.
“We have the easy part, providing the facility,” Iacono said. “This is usually our maintenance hangar. If you were here 10 hours ago, you would have seen jets being repaired.”
By evening, the transformation was complete with a main stage hosting cover band Tickle, a busy bar in the center, light appetizers from Migis Hotels, and a silent auction for trips and other luxury items. In a lounge area, hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque signed autographs.
Steps outside the hangar, guests were invited to tour a luxurious nine-passenger jet with hopes of having the winning ticket. The owner of the private jet donated its use anonymously.
Adding to the glamor, representatives from Portland Models and Talent circulated in clothing from Bon-Ton, inviting women to the Bon-Ton makeup counters at one corner of the hangar.
“In a prior life, I did event planning,” said Cathy Regios of Portland. “And this is really well done.”
“It’s pretty cool, huh?” said Michael Smith, director of Special Events for Camp Sunshine.
Keller Williams, the largest real estate agency in Maine, was hoping to raise $80,000 – enough to add another whole week at Camp Sunshine. That additional session would serve 40 families all facing the same illness, such as cancer, kidney disease or lupus.
“They will likely continue toward their goal,” Smith said. “It’s not in the Keller Williams culture to fall short, so I suspect there may be some continued efforts.”
In 2013, Keller Williams was able to send 22 families to Camp Sunshine, extending the camp season by a week.
Keller Williams employee Deja Lett was especially pleased to see the turnout at the Suitcase Party because she has volunteered at the parent support group at Camp Sunshine. “I’m a mom of three kids,” she said, “so I can imagine feeling alone in that situation. It was definitely emotional.”
“We chose Camp Sunshine because we’ve had Keller Williams agents with children with cancer,” Hatcher explained. “It’s all about giving back to the community.”
Each guest’s ticket was put in the raffle for an all-expense-paid trip for two to New York – within half an hour of winning the prize. Two additional trips were auctioned off at $8,000 and $7,000 per couple.
“The party is certainly double the size of last year,” said Cindy Olsen, a Realtor from Yarmouth who packed a suitcase. “Somebody’s got to win, and it might as well be us,” she laughed.
Likewise, Adam Laite of South Portland said he was “ready to rock and roll.”
“It would be fun to win,” said Jaye Gorham of Portland. “It’s fun to think about it.”
On a deeper level, Gorham cares about Camp Sunshine because her son has brain cancer. She knows the physical, spiritual and psychological issues families face when struggling with critical illness.
“Families have written some very heartfelt letters thanking us,” said Amy Cartmell, one of about 200 Keller Williams employees representing the agency at the Suitcase Party.
Those with the winning tickets didn’t wish to be named publicly. But, Iacono said, “It was hard to get the pre-flight briefing in because they were so excited.”
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at: