A significant winter storm didn’t keep 700 Mainers – many of them in ball gowns and tuxes – from the Center for Grieving Children’s annual Love Gala at Thompson’s Point on Feb. 7. The nonprofit’s largest event ever, the gala brought in $310,000 to fund grief support services for close to 5,000 people each year.

“For folks to dress up and come out on a night like tonight says a lot about how people hold the center in their hearts,” said Florence Young, director of programs. “People are so generous.”

The center, founded in 1987, depends on funding from individuals, businesses, foundations and the United Way to offer small groups in Portland and Sanford.

“Our services are free,” said Executive Director Anne Heros. “We don’t want people to be worrying about that.”

The gala included live music by the CIEE House Band, a seated dinner catered by Blue Elephant, heartwarming videos by Black Fly Media and a live auction with everything from trips to artwork.

“It’s a magical evening, bringing the generous spirit of the community together to make it so that no child ever has to grieve alone,” said Lisa Morin, director of philanthropy.

“There’s math behind the magic,” said board member Peter Dewitt. “It costs $100 for grief support for one child for one month.”

Event sponsor Idexx pledged to match every $100, $200 or $500 pledge up to $30,000 – and gala attendees raised their paddles to meet that challenge.

“This is community coming together, and it’s amazing,” said Katie Harris of event sponsor MaineHealth. “I believe in the continuum of the nonprofit, for profit, community and government coming together to ensure that we are providing a foundation of services for people to enable them to thrive. I see the Center for Grieving Children as bringing all those pieces together to serve critical needs across the community, regardless of income, at times of need.”

More than 300 Mainers contributed nearly 300,000 volunteer hours in 2019.

“I lost my brother and my mother, so I want to give back,” said volunteer Ashley Tyler. “I want to show kids they have a choice in how to have a functional, dynamic life when dealing with loss.”

“Everybody experiences grief,” said board member Sara McLaughlin.

Tom MacKenzie, who volunteers as a group facilitator, said, “The center gives kids a place to have fun, to vent, to cry, to share and to generally be themselves.”


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