BI dinner, auction raises $319,000
BECOMING INDEPENDENT COS Carin Lawrence and CEO Cami Weaver at the Dinner Under the Starts fundraiser, which raised $319,000.
Franklin Lee/Special to the Index-Tribune
For more than 1,300 men and women living with disabilities in Sonoma County, Becoming Independent is a resource that makes life livable. But the variety of support programs offered, from transportation to employment aid, is almost completely dependent on state funds to operate, funds that are threatened by the ongoing budget crisis.
"We're very vulnerable right now," said Cami Weaver, executive director of Becoming Independent, who added that 87 percent of the organization's funding comes from the state. "At a time that the financial support BI normally receives from the State Legislature is being drastically reduced, the annual Dinner Under the Stars fundraiser is more important than ever."
Luckily, supporters of the organization showed up en force at the annual Dinner Under the Stars fundraiser, which took place June 11 at Imagery Winery. The event raised more than ever before in its 20 years, bringing in $319,000 total, with expenses still being calculated.
"We're over the moon," Weaver said. "I can't say how incredibly happy and grateful we are."
The evening included a gourmet dinner and auction. Like every year, the event was hosted by Glen Ellen's Benziger family, who have provided a venue for all 20 of Becoming Independent's Dinner Under the Stars fundraisers.
"That's pretty incredible. One family has been hosting us at their venue, for free, for 20 years," Weaver said, adding that Kathy Benziger served as auction chair of this year's event. "This is her third year leading the auction committee."
One of the surprises of the event came from Morton Gothelf of Morton and Bassett Spices, a Novato-based company that hires Becoming Independent clients. Without notifying any of the BI staff, Gothelf said he would match up to $50,000 in donations during the fund-a-need Paddle Pledge, a move that sent paddles flying into the air.
"We were all happily surprised by that," said Jacqui Sayler, resource development manager for BI.
Weaver added, "At the end of that round, the Paddle Pledge raised $158,500, $70,000 more than last year. It was absolutely amazing."
Of the funds raised during the event, $100,000 will be earmarked for improving transportation services for clients. The organization intends to purchase two 15-passenger vans to help transport clients, and one service truck, since many residents cannot drive themselves, transportation is one of BI's critical services.
"We provide door-to-door service for our clients to get to our programs," Weaver said.
In addition to offering rides, the organization provides continuing adult education services to teach clients skills they will need to be successful in life, from computer skills and cooking to music and physical fitness.
BI's community living support provides social workers who help clients learn to live independently while still receiving help from professionals and volunteers as much as the need. The organization's Family Resource and Advocacy Center offers emotional, financial and legal help a client's family needs to provide the best care possible for their loved one.
Finally, the nonprofit works to find regular employment for clients, who are employed in supermarkets, warehouses and restaurants such as Mary's Pizza Shack. The BI staff helps businesses find the correct client to meet the tasks required of the job, assists in training the clients and ensures that workers get to and from the job.
"In the last year alone, our clients earned $1 million in revenue," Weaver said.
Becoming Independent has three offices in Sonoma County, located in Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Sonoma Valley at 355 W. Napa St.
Other major sponsors of Dinner Under the Stars were E & J. Gallo Winery; Exchange Bank; Spaulding McCullough and Tansil, LLP; and the DeGraves family.
To learn more about Becoming Indepdent and it's programs, visit www.becomingindependent.org.