Go Behind the Scenes with Warrick Parks Foundation’s Annual Gala

Gala season is in full swing, presenting the opportunity to don fancy threads and have a ball for charity. Often themed, each gala is distinct in its mission and amenities, from photo booths and live shows to auctions and all-night dancing.

As fun as these events are, they take a lot of work to coordinate and — most importantly — succeed in raising money. We asked Laurel Meny, executive director of the Warrick Parks Foundation, to tell [Evansville Living] about the foundation’s planning process for its second annual gala, slated for Feb. 25 at Friedman Park Event Center.

Overseen by the Warrick Parks Foundation’s board of directors, the gala is coordinated by the Parks & Trails Gala Planning Committee. Nearly a dozen Newburgh-area residents and parks supporters have planned each gala down to the last detail.

Photo provided by Laurel Meny. A group of nearly one dozen “moms on a mission” forms the gala committee.

This year’s Parks & Trails Gala Planning Committee includes Brooke Althaus, Nellie Hohne, Carly Settles, Rachel Begle, Courtney TenBarge, Christy Hayes, Mallory Priddy, Sarah McCullough, Joanna Rogers, and Meny. These “moms on a mission,” as Meny calls them, meet over six months to coordinate everything from lighting displays and catering to entertainment, color schemes, invitations, and party favors. (Good news for this year’s gala attendees: Fan-favorite Atlanta, Georgia-based band Celebrity All-Stars is returning.)

Planning a gala is no small undertaking and needs every bit of that six months to come together, Meny says. The committee members divide the to-do list so they can focus on specific responsibilities, such as making sure guests with dietary restrictions are attended to. Monthly status meetings are held to update committee members and address new concerns or ideas. Sponsorships, such as buying the seats at a table at the event, are a huge part of covering the gala’s costs. Table sponsorships still are available through Feb. 10 for this year’s Warrick Parks Foundation gala.

Thanks to Friedman Park Event Center’s ample space and services, items such as tables, linens, and catering are built into the plan from the beginning. One large area of the committee’s focus is bringing in attractive items for attendees to bid on during the gala’s silent and live actions. This year’s big-ticket auction items include floor seats to Kenny Chesney’s May 20 concert at the Ford Center; a one-year membership to Bfit by Bob’s Gym; a bottle of Blanton’s Bourbon; and a package to this year’s Indy 500.

Committee tasks are frequently hands-on. Members have been known to take home nearly 50 tablecloths to steam and fold prior to the event. They frequently hand-deliver invitations. They meet the morning of the gala to set up tables and place settings, then return home to rest up before the big night.

The foundation has a list of fundraising needs that are targeted by the gala’s live auction. On this year’s Fund-A-Need are safety items such as emergency beacons to be installed at Scales Lake Park and Friedman Park ($9,000 each); outdoor fitness equipment at Friedman Park ($10,200 total); ADA-accessible picnic tables for Friedman Park and Scales Lake Park ($250 each); and funds to send children to summer camp in Warrick County ($150 per child).

The Parks & Trails Gala Planning Committee takes a few weeks off and then dives into planning the foundation’s next big event: Party in Paradise. Meny says the September evening of food trucks and live music at Friedman Park routinely brings in about $60,000 and is the foundation’s top fundraiser.

“In two short years, with the hard work of this committee of volunteers, the Annual Parks & Trails Gala has quickly become one of the area’s most exciting evenings,” Meny says. “It provides thousands of dollars to help fund projects and equipment that help our parks and trails remain some of the very best in the state.”

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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