School event becomes community cause

schandler@newsobserver.comJanuary 12, 2014 

Technically, the Enloe Charity Ball was a project of the Raleigh high school’s student council. But as the event approached, it became clear that it belonged to the entire school community.

More than 1,000 people bought tickets for the ball, held last month at Marbles Kids Museum in downtown Raleigh, including Enloe students, students from other schools and adults from the community. And many more donated money to support the event’s beneficiary, SAFEchild. In all, the event brought in $63,000 for the organization, which aims to prevent child abuse in Wake County. ($62,000 was the total the night of the ball, with the remainder being tallied afterward.)

But even more important than the money, said Clara Femia, who led the effort as vice president of service for the student council, was spreading the word at school and beyond about SAFEchild’s work and raising awareness of child abuse locally.

“Charity Ball is a great thing because we raise a ton of money for a great charity,” said Clara, a senior at Enloe. “But so much of it is in the awareness itself. We have this opportunity to take something that could help our peers and tell everyone about it and just let them know.”

Enloe’s student council has hosted a charity ball each year for nearly a decade, and each ball benefits a different local service organization. To choose which organization to work with, members of the council hear a presentation from each group and then deliberate on the decision. SAFEchild won out, Clara said, because it confronts an issue that directly affects the school’s age group.

“Our biggest goal when we chose a charity was that it was going to be something that our peers could relate to and really be involved with so that it was the whole school and whole community and not just student council doing it,” she said.

As word spread about the ball and the cause it supported, students took to Twitter to talk about both the event and the issue, making #isupportsafechild a hot topic. The discussion started with student council members, Clara said, “and then it just kind of caught on.”

Big news at the ball

The ball itself boasted a lively band, desserts and drinks (age-appropriate, of course, with several Enloe dads serving as “bartenders”) and photographers.

But the biggest splash was when Clara and fellow members of the President’s Council – seniors Katie Sullivan, Nupur Jain, Drake Buxton and Ally Lowder – unveiled the amount of money the event had generated for SAFEchild. The fundraising goal had been an ambitious $50,000, so $63,000 made a lot of jaws drop.

One of the surprised guests was Nancy Bromhal, development director for SAFEchild. All along she was “so impressed” by the efforts and intentions of the Enloe students, she said, but as the ball neared, she wasn’t sure how much money would be coming in.

“They were very cagey about it at the very end,” Bromhal said with a laugh. “When we asked what it looked like, they were like, ‘You’ll be happy.’”

While the amount came as a shock (in a good way), the event’s success was no surprise, Bromhal said.

“They had been so positive so focused and did not let up; I can’t imagine a group that’s any smarter or could work any harder on accomplishing something,” she said. “So in that sense I wasn’t surprised, because this group is going to go on to do really significant things.”

The money comes amid a fiscal year that saw a lot of grants from the state go unfunded, Bromhal said, so it will go far to help SAFEchild help more kids. Specifically, she said, the funds will support SAFEchild’s Advocacy Center, which provides evaluations and professional services for children who have suffered abuse or neglect.

For her part, Clara loved seeing the event come together – and the community come together around the event.

“It was about he charity and about the cause, and I think that was probably the best part,” she said. “That was something really important that I got from it, that it’s possible to make thousands of people stand behind one thing. It was just such a good thing to be together on. It was kids helping kids. So you could donate five bucks and you might be helping the kid sitting next to you in class who is going through that, or maybe hearing about it inspired somebody who is being abused to speak up.”

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