It’s one of the most anticipated events of the year. Not because it’s an occasion to dress up, wine, dine and network, though that certainly happens in spades. Rather, it’s an opportunity to gather and celebrate an organization that exists purely to guide children and family members through the difficult journey of grief and loss, in a safe and supportive way.

The Center for Grieving Children’s Love Really Counts Auction and Dinner Gala did not disappoint. With more than 700 guests in attendance, the event was held Feb. 9 at Brick South at Thompson’s Point in Portland.

“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” explained Dr. Ed Tumavicus, president of the Center for Grieving Children’s board of directors. “We are completely reliant on the generosity of our donors. Tonight’s event gives us the opportunity to thank the community, have a party that celebrates the joy of the Center, and bring new people into our community.”

“We have a lot of support in this community,” said Anne Heros, executive director of the Center. “This is a chance to tell our story. We exist to support families so they can navigate a way forward during very difficult times, and at the Center, they have a home to come to.”

The “Havana nights”-themed soirée offered a welcome reprieve from the chilly evening outside. Jason Nelson of Black Fly Media and his wife, Diana, were joined by friends Erin Ovalle of Maine Life Media and Jason Birkel of St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad; Abby Synder, hospital-based teacher at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, was joined by her husband, John Bennett, president of Oakhurst Dairy, his sister Jean Bennett Driscoll and Tom Whyte of Northeast Planning Associates; and Jacques Santucci of Opus Consulting Group attended with his wife and board member, Patricia Rosi, who is also chief executive officer of Wellness Connection of Maine.

“The Center for Grieving Children was the light that kept us going,” said Claire Owens of Norway Savings Bank, who attended the Center with her daughter after Owens lost her mother.

“It’s such a welcoming community,” said Marie-Claire Owens, a freshman at Cheverus. “It was easy to open up. They take your mind off things, and you can go at your own pace.”

“We empower families to regain control when so much in their lives has changed,” said Heros, clearly humbled by the supportive and generous crowd, which raised $330,000 at the annual gala. “It’s really all about empowering families.”

“Grief is something everyone can connect with,” said Tumavicus, who attended with his wife, Megan. “No one should have to go through grief alone.”

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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