May 17, 2022 – Confession: I’m a gala junkie. I love everything about galas. From the glossy invitation in the mail, to the theme, to the food (ok, really, it’s the dessert for me), to perusing the silent auction items, to the band. THE BAND! What’s better than dancing the night away for a good cause?
Here’s the thing: Galas are A TON of work. Maybe you’ve served on a committee (thank you). Maybe you’ve donated a silent auction item (also, thank you). Maybe you’ve worked the event—set up, clean up, silent auction, registration (THANK YOU, in all caps). These galas are, as our Special Events Manager Dana Packard calls it, her Super Bowl. It is months and weeks of preparation, an ungodly amount of caffeine, a solid emotional breakdown for good measure (hopefully just one), and a whole lot of commitment to a mission that is bigger than “a really great party”.
My name is Courtney Echols, and I am proud to be the Vice President of Development at Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County. I work with a team of six development professionals and oversee all the fundraising efforts for the Center. But come gala time, titles be gone! Gala season requires all of us to bring our best efforts to work as a team to get things done. As an example of what Gala requires of my team: on any given day a month or so out from the event, our Donor Relations Managers, Maria Strong and Efrain Duarte are soliciting sponsorships, individual tickets and silent auction items. Our Corporate Relations Manager, Kara Shrum is managing all the car raffle ticket sales in addition to soliciting sponsorships and silent auction items. Our Grants Manager, Lorrie Galanter is applying for community grants that support the Gala and organizing auction items in the office. Bobbie Pierri, our Donor Services Manager is inputting guest names and processing all payments. Gala also involves our fabulous Community Relations team who manages the social media posts and emails that go out and grab the attention of our supporters and gala junkies like me, looking for a great event to attend and an even better cause to support. Above it all, this well-oiled machine, this multi-ring circus, has been managed for nearly ten years now by our aforementioned Special Events Manager, Dana Packard – the Gala Queen as I like to refer to her.
Fast forward to Gala weekend. We stormed The Star on Friday and set up shop along with so many of our wonderful CACCC staff who set aside time from their busy professional and personal schedules to lend a hand. This year, we had a volunteer area and a “Zen room” that we desperately tried to protect its Zen-ness. Supported by snacks, music, and an oil diffuser, this room was Gala 2022 HQ. I asked my team to estimate the number of steps we took that weekend, and we came up with what I know looks like a made-up number, but I have the Apple watch proof: 859,000. Time flies when you’re having fun and it absolutely evaporates when you’re having fun and setting up for Gala. Vendors arrive and drop off equipment and décor that hints at just how fabulous the night is going to be. Tables begin to be set with linens, the AV team does sound checks, the silent auction items get unpacked and laid out…the room transforms. The podium party does a run through, the music turns on and the lights come down. The night has officially started.
I am biased, but I believe our guests stepped into a truly magical place on April 2, 2022—that didn’t feel at all like a football field. Cirque performers throughout the field, bright colored bouquets of baby’s breath on the tables, and perhaps most importantly, friends reuniting after “two years, two long”. The evening is a magical blur that to me, more than a month after the fact, it is like waking up from a dream and trying to fall back asleep so you can re-enter the dream. Our guests heard from Marsha Sparks, one of the original members of Junior League of Plano (now Collin County) who founded the Center; our fearless leader and CEO, Lynne McLean; then-President of the Junior League of Collin County, Kelly Noonan; and our Board Member and one of our fiercest supporters, Collin County District Attorney, Greg Willis who reminded all of us that we could be “parachute packers”. These speakers left their heart on the stage and their brilliant remarks were flanked by an unbelievably successful live auction and Wings of Hope paddle raise. Just when our guests thought the excitement was over, we challenged all of the tables to raise each paddle at the table and they were surprised with champagne bottle service, complete with sparklers that lit up an already electrified room. And then…the band and you already know my feelings about dancing the night away, especially with the ever talented and fun Jordan Kahn Orchestra.
I’ll spare you the details, but what people don’t realize is just how much effort goes into wrapping up a Gala. I’m not talking about packing up silent auction items or clearing out the Zen room. People often think that a team like mine takes a week off after Gala. However, we make follow up calls, deliver silent auction items, we double and triple check that people are not charged twice for their donations or items…and yep, we drink a lot more coffee while we do all of this. I suppose the adrenaline of the night and its success powers us through. I think it also has a lot to do with my team’s commitment to excellence and treating each guest with the highest level of “customer service”. How you’re treated after Gala matters just as much to us as how you are treated before and during the event.
We simply could not have a gala without generous support from our sponsors. We’re so thankful for our presenting sponsor, Credit Union of Texas and the 75 other table sponsors who supported our event this year (30 of these sponsors were brand new)! We need people to attend this event, purchase raffle tickets and silent auction items, and paddle raisers for live auction and Wings of Hope. We need volunteers to be hands and feet when we can’t possibly take one more step by ourselves. To every single person who supported any part of Gala: THANK YOU.
So, what is Gala? It’s a party. A rockin’ party. A rockin’ party that people are still talking about and cannot wait for next year to do it all over again. More than that, it is people coming together to send a message to the children in Collin County who are victimized by abuse and neglect; that they matter and the safety, healing, and justice we work to provide for them, and their families matters, and will be supported, free of charge, for the life of the child. Gala raises critical funds that ensure this truth. I am proud, shocked, and humbled to share that a brand new CACCC record of $1,001,089 was raised on April 2nd by the people of Collin County, for the children of Collin County. The bar has been set for next year and my team loves a challenge.
Cheers and appreciation,
Written by: Courtney Echols, Vice President of Development
Courtney Echols is the Vice President of Development and joined Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County in the fall of 2021. She has over 12 years of fundraising and special events experience, having previously worked for Pepperdine University School of Law, the University of Texas at Dallas Jindal School of Management, and My Possibilities. Courtney earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the University of California, San Diego, and her Juris Doctorate from Pepperdine University School of Law. She is a proud graduate of Leadership Plano, Leadership North Texas University, and Leadership Texas and has a strong commitment to serving in her community through board involvement and volunteering with her husband, Aaron and two children, Ripken (9) and Millie (7).
Courtney oversees all aspects of the Center’s fundraising, special events, and development projects to meet the Center’s $5.6 million-dollar annual budget so that no child victimized by abuse or neglect goes without services and support.
When Courtney isn’t working, you can find her teaching fitness classes (indoor cycling and Barre), reading a good book, or hanging out with the PTA or sports team parents at practice or weekend games.