A last-minute invitation from a dear friend awarded me the chance to attend this year’s annual Boys & Girls Club Civil War Dinner & Auction at the Salem Convention Center this Thursday evening.
Being Civil War-themed, attendees were encouraged to fly their colors to support their favorite Oregon university: University of Oregon with their green and yellow, or Oregon State University with black and orange. Naturally an Oregon Duck, I ran home after work to hurriedly don my loud, bright yellow Oregon volleyball jersey and throw on my running tights before dashing back downtown for the festivities. Surrounded by friends and a hot date on my arm, I waltzed into the Convention Center to see what the hubbub was all about.
If you have never been inside Salem’s Convention Center, you’re missing out. I think we’re so often buzzing about the capital that we’re too busy to take appreciation in this gorgeous building that stands as a central event center within the community. (I didn’t realize how fortunate Salem is to have such a handsome and useful building for public use.) The architecture is gorgeous; vaulted ceilings and warm wood accents blend surprisingly well with the industrial feel, giving an inviting and professional atmosphere.
Considered a prestigious event, tickets for the Dinner & Auction run at $100 apiece, and guests come prepared with wallets laid wide open. And all for a good cause: the Boys & Girls Clubs of America are on a mission to “enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.” They offer our youth a safe place to learn and grow, ongoing relationships with caring, adult professionals, life-enhancing programs, and character development experiences. Overall they offer hope and opportunity for our nation’s youth. This annual fundraiser goes to benefit the Marion and Polk County Clubs in the Salem area, and it was a delight to see our state’s rival teams and fans come together under one roof for such a worthy cause. Beavers and Ducks getting along seamlessly; a Platypus Affair, of sorts.
The event started off with a silent auction, boasting over 150 packages to bid on. It was fascinating to see the wildly different items in the auction: gift baskets on for children on display next to Duck and Beaver gear, a blind wine-grab and local getaway packages, all the way up to a Pac Man arcade game, a living room entertainment system, and even a Gator. Unfortunately, having but a meager writer’s salary to bring to the table, most of the items were already well over my bidding range. I so badly wanted to bid on something, but I literally couldn’t. I thought perhaps the live auction would prove better luck for the Club on behalf of my thin wallet.
My inability to afford much, however, was greeted with the relief of bottomless beer provided by Gilgamesh Brewing and Columbia Distributing (thank you for loosening us all up!). I Mamba’d it up. And so did everyone else, apparently, as Gilgamesh blew all three of their kegs before dinner even started. Thirsty Thursday, indeed! They also offered wine and bottled beer for a fee, as well as “themed” hard alcohol drinks named after each school mascot.
As the silent auction came to a close, people slowly filtered into the grand dining hall to sit at our assigned tables. The Beaver and Duck mascots mingled with guests…the Duck being his usual flirtatious and mischievous self (I received an extended hug and a bashful look while my date merely got a brief handshake, hah!). Oh, to be the man behind the mask….I digress.
The catering crew served salad and dinner rolls while a marching band amped up the already buzzed and happy crowd with fight songs, and the U of O cheerleaders performed their routines as entertainment.
The evening started off so well; good food and good company, and every time our wine bottles at our table were emptied, a full one magically replaced it almost immediately. The salad and rolls were surprisingly delicious despite appearing so simple. The live auction began as dinner was served; each guest had a choice of entrée, but we received our previously-chosen steak dinners, and we weren’t complaining. The steak was near-perfect and the potatoes and vegetables were just the right complement. I was extremely impressed with the catering company (unfortunately I am not privy to who catered the event!); good food and good service all around. Cheers!
Our auctioneer wore a classic black and white referee shirt and began rattling off bids and asking for higher and higher amounts, exciting the crowd while most of us stuffed our faces after our bid ceiling maxed out. The first live auction item: a tray of martinis to be served to the winner, which ended up going for $400. (To the winner, I hope they were the best $40 martinis you’ve ever had!) And the event took off, only becoming more rousing and frantic as the bidding wars increased over more and more attractive auction items. I was sad to be unable to participate in the fun, but it really was wonderful to see how others really committed to the cause, going above and beyond the worth of the items in order to pay it forward to the Boys & Girls Club. The goodwill and comradery was contagious. One friendly lady at our table had her bidding number sign taken away from her by her friends after she bid $500 on an item, then immediately bid $750…back to back…against herself. We couldn’t stop laughing. She exclaimed, “But I’m getting the crowd worked up! It makes it fun!” and we only laughed harder. Such a good sport.
My favorite part of the evening’s events, however, was when a young lady stood up and told her story of how she came to the Boys & Girls Club: she got involved with a group of girls in high school, whom she thought were her friends, until they encouraged her to regularly shoplift with them. Their behavior had a huge effect on her, leading her to some poor choices, and eventually getting caught by mall security who called her mother to come get her. The disappointment on her mother’s face was all she needed to see. She chose to turn her life around and to wipe that disappointment from her mother’s heart, and began attending programs at the local Boys & Girls Club. Even when she was no longer required to attend, she elected to continue being a part of the Club, even becoming a mentor herself, stepping up to be a young leader in her own community.
It’s funny how we are so used to Cinderella stories like this in our culture, but we mostly see this in movies or told in books, not in our own backyard. To hear this young woman’s testimony was captivating and convicting—to realize that so many kids in our neighborhoods face the same kind of risk without anyone to step forward and help them. Yet the Boys & Girls Club are doing just that…actively seeking out our city’s youth who need positive direction and mentoring, creating capable and responsible generations for the future. Sure, it may sound sappy, but it really was humbling to see how this kind of threat to our youth is very real and sits right at our doorstep. We just refuse to acknowledge it.
I’ve heard it said before, and it’s true: we so often focus intently on third world country poverty and cultural dangers that we forget to see the perils in our own community. This evening was amazing, but not because there was free beer or that the food was fantastic…it was a huge reminder as to where my focus is when it comes to bettering my community. I plan to take action and donate to the Clubs in any way I can. Will you? Time to step it up, Salem. Let’s remember that the future of our city is in the hands of our youth. Let’s not forget them—let’s invest in them, no matter how small the gift. It only takes one to change a life.