More than 430 guests filled the ballroom at the Holiday Inn by the Bay on Feb. 4 for The Center for Grieving Children’s auction and dinner gala.

The event, which raised more than $150,000 for the nonprofit organization that provides free bereavement support to children and adults, began with a cocktail reception featuring more than 200 silent auction items. Donated by local businesses and individuals, these items included everything from sports memorabilia and a big-screen TV to jewelry and fine art. In other words, a little something for everyone.

Now in its 14th year, the party has grown significantly. Gail Cinelli, the organization’s first director, told me about the event’s early days.

“When we had the first (gala dinner), we tried to pull it together with three people,” Cinelli said. “We maybe had 200 guests.”

This year’s party was staffed by more than 25 volunteers and attracted a crowd of enthusiastic supporters.

“We’ve known people whose children have gone through the program,” board member Paul Letalien told me. “It’s such a great program.”

Former board member Joe DeLois echoed this sentiment. “It’s a wonderful organization. It fulfills a need no one else seems to be fulfilling.”

The need for such an organization was clear when I chatted with Lori Parent and her daughter Halee Jandreau, who were among the many volunteers helping out with the party.

Ten years ago when Parent was two months pregnant and had a 1-year-old and a 7-year-old at home, her husband died in a car accident. With her family more than 300 miles away, Parent and her children turned to the center for help.

“The center is unbelievable,” Parent said. “You feel like the weight is taken off your shoulders. It helped me get better so I could take care of my kids.”

Today Parent serves as a facilitator at the center.

“Lots of times children are the forgotten ones, but in this case they’re not,” Bunny Polansky of Falmouth told me.

Once the silent auction closed, we made our way to the tables for dinner.

I had the pleasure of joining the Port City Architecture and Dawson, Smith, Purvis & Bassett table, where I sat between Thom Truman and Andy Hyland, president of Port City Architecture. Also at our table were Anne Hyland and Mark Chaloupecky, both with Port City Architecture, Jeanne Truman and Eric Purvis, both of the Dawson, Smith, Purvis & Basset accounting firm, Kathy Purvis, Susan Giambalvo, who works for the center, and her husband, Steve Strout.

Our conversation was lively and ranged from taxes and stormwater management to my alma mater Syracuse University, where the Hylands’ son is studying communications.

When dessert was served, auctioneer Bill Zafirson took to the stage to start the live auction. He was helped by Dave Eid, sports director for WGME-13, and Erin Ovalle, co-host of the WMTW-8 morning news.

Cindy Williams of WCSH-6 emceed the program. She was followed by a number of speakers, including the center’s board president Burr Duryee, Greater Portland United Way president Suzanne McCormick and Rick Danforth, whose family has benefited from the center’s programs.

“When the worst thing you can imagine happens, how do you continue living?” Danforth asked the crowd. “I didn’t know how to show my son the way after he lost his younger brother.”

Thankfully, for Danforth, his family and so many others like them, The Center for Grieving Children was there when they needed it. 

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

[email protected]