Photos courtesy of Evan Jones, GHS Class of 2017.
The 31st Annual Gifft Hill School Gala was a carnival-themed evening affair at The Westin on Saturday, March 11. Once again, Gifft Hill School teachers, students, volunteers and St. John community gathered together to raise funds for the school’s Scholarship Fund. This year marked the most successful year in the gala’s history.
“The energy of the event was electric,” said Dr. Laurie Bottiger, Head of School. “Everyone had a wonderful time, all with a common commitment to Gifft Hill School. I thank the St. John community for supporting educational access for our island children.”
Guests were greeted with champagne, passed appetizers created and served by the students and a student ensemble band for the silent auction. At the close of the silent auction portion, attendees filtered into the main ballroom to be seated for the live auction. The space looked beautiful, with gorgeous centerpieces created by the students. The pieces, which were up for bidding, were a collective creation by the students and additional donors: Coral Bay Garden Center donated the pots, Alfredo’s Landscaping donated the orchids, and Sean and Crystal D’Abbraccio worked with students to tile them.
Darron and Hope Meares returned to St. John for the ninth consecutive year to host, bringing their expertise and energy to the event. Their fast-paced, skillful auctioneering is an integral aspect of fundraising and the gala as a whole.
“When we started our benefit auction company, the mission was to support children and education. The Gifft Hill School annual auction fits into our goals and mission. We have been honored to be a part of the event for the last 9 years,” said Darron.
Each year, Steve Simonsen creates an emotional and moving video of the Gifft Hill students to kick off the paddle raise for the Scholarship Fund. This year, he worked with eight student visionaries (Mirisa Clendinen ’17, Evan Jones ‘17, Ty Massaquoi ‘18, Seala Matthias ’19, John Ovcina ’17, Maeven Parsil ’17, Jordan Spivey ’19, Siena Wilkie ’19) to capture the love, learning and spirit of the school. It may have been the most motivating and inspirational video to date! Immediately following the showing, attendees raised their paddles and gave outright donations to the Scholarship Fund totaling $141,600, over $38,000 more than last year!
“Every year, we are humbled by the generosity of our community, and we are so grateful for the incredible success of the auction. All of the money raised supports the Scholarship Fund, from which over 70% of our students benefit, so it is a vital part of our operating budget,” said Molly Murrill, Auction Co-Chair.
The event always has fun highlights, including the Golden Ticket raffle. This year, the winner was Janet Quigley (mother of Colleen Quigley, Gifft Hill School’s Pre-Kindergarten teacher). She chose the 7-night stay at Grande Bay with a sunset sail aboard “No Worries ‘Mon” and a gift certificate to DR!NK. The Wall of Wine, a yearly highlight where attendees participate in an interactive “heads or tails” game, was won by Donald Schnell, who then donated it back for bidding. Jim Swan and Rich Emmett bid and won, splitting the Wall of Wine.
Gifft Hill School is grateful for all the amazing donors who make the event possible. Peter Fortunato built and managed the online auction again this year. The Westin St. John sponsored the event, providing the venue, staff and dinner buffet at no charge. The evening’s three corporate sponsors, each at the $2,500 level, were High Tide Bar & Seafood Grill, Holiday Homes and USVI Sotheby’s International Realty. The after party was hosted at DR!NK, who also generously donated a portion of the bar sales that evening. Ian Samuel aka DJ Top Notch donated his talent and music, making for a fun dance party following the gala.
“Thanks to all the students, parents, volunteers and supporters who made this evening of celebration of education at Gifft Hill School such a success,” said Miles Stair, President of the Board of Trustees. “Their support allows us to provide equal access for interested students to attend GHS—our private school for public purpose.”