Spirits, dreams, and close to 400 guests soared through the air last Thursday evening, held aloft by the efforts of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians of the past, present, and future, supported by the generosity of individuals and companies across the Region.
The 2nd Annual Night of Flight powered by NIPSCO, a benefit for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana STEM programming, welcomed NWI’s business owners, corporate executives, and rising stars from across the Region to the B. Coleman Hangar at Gary International Airport.
Alicia DuBose, STEM Programming Coordinator at the John Will Anderson (JWA) Boys & Girls Club in Gary, joined the students from her STEM program for a tour of the hangar and a presentation from Mark Jackson, Director and Chief Pilot of Boeing Executive Flight Operations earlier in the evening.
"For our kids to have this kind of positive exposure and see that it's happening right here in their very own community, it's another awesome opportunity provided by the Club and its generous donors," DuBose said. “And that’s really what the Clubs are all about… hope and opportunity.”
Thanks to a generous series of grants from Boeing and the support of corporate sponsors and guests at Night of Flight, the JWA Gary Club has been able to offer access to local STEM learning resources for the past four years. DuBose was especially excited about a new expansion program the Gary club will be launching in 2020, geared specifically toward young women interested in aviation and space education.
“Kids tend to dive in head first with a love of knowledge,” she said. “Maybe our next astronauts could be from right here in Gary.”
As ticket-holders began to arrive, students took to the parking lot to greet them, holding aloft bedazzled signs filled with messages of thanks and encouragement, reminding guests exactly WHO they were there to support.
Guests at the sold-out event enjoyed an incredible evening in the B. Coleman Aviation Hangar with live dueling pianos, Bears vs Packers on the four big screens and a jumbo-Tron thanks to Miller Lite, helicopter rides over the lights of Northwest Indiana, airplanes and photo ops in show stopping sports cars from Jaguar Land Rover South Shore and BMW of Schererville and luxurious limos from EPIC Limo, not to mention two open bars and hors d’oeuvres and desserts from Gamba Ristorante, Don Quijote in Valpo, Spice Thai in Merrillville, Nothing Bundt Cakes in Schererville and Ace Catering.
While there were no live or silent auctions, guests made a verbal pledge to sponsor at least one annual membership for a youth, at just $35.00. Mike Hooper, Senior VP from NIPSCO and Boys & Girls Clubs board member, ask guests to make their generous gift during the Art Van Furniture Charity Challenge fundraising competition in an effort to help the organization win the grand prize of $100,000.00.
“Let’s keep the grand prize money right here in Northwest Indiana,” exclaimed Hooper. Please click on this link NOW to give your gift anytime between today and Sept. 26th.
As the last speaker of the evening, Buffy Adams, Vice President of Mission Advancement explained, “Winning the one-hundred thousand dollar grand prize is more important than ever, as average daily attendance in our Clubs is on the rise, programs and services offered by Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana are more important and relevant than ever before. With your very generous support, we will be able to meet the increased demand for services and programs that focus on three core outcome areas of Academic Success, Good Character & Leadership and Healthy Lifestyles. We are also asking that you please encourage your friends, family and co-workers to give a small gift of at least $5.00 thru the Art Van Charity Challenge to ensure the grand prize money STAYS in Northwest Indiana. Please post a message on your social media or send via text message asking people to help us WIN!”
"The whole point was to give our guests, our sponsors and donors a different experience than a traditional gala or silent auction,” said Ryan Smiley, President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana. “This has been a really big hit as a unique experience and people seem to really enjoy it."
"We're really excited for what this means for the 12,000 kids who come thru the doors of our ten Clubs and eleven before-and-after school based sites," he said.
Anthony Contrucci, a “Sand Creek VIP Experience” attendee at Night of Flight and Vice President of Community & Business Development at Centier Bank, flew in to the event via helicopter from Sand Creek Country Club with his wife Melissa and was taken home in a limo from Epic Limo. As a donor and representative from one of the evening’s sponsors, Contrucci was definitely impressed.
“When it comes to the many excellent nonprofits in our Region, you really have to differentiate to stand out,” he said. “I think what Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana has done with this event is incredible. By upping the ante with this VIP experience and doing something really unique in general-- they’ve found a way to attract new supporters.”
“Both Chicago Helicopter Experience and Sand Creek Country Club have been extremely generous in lending us their aircraft and landing space for the evening,” Contrucci continued. “Northwest Indiana is doing a lot of really generous things lately, and I, as a part of Centier Bank and a member of the community, am really happy to help shine a spotlight on them.”
The support from business benefactors such as NIPSCO, Toyota of Merrillville, Centier Bank, Strack & Van Til, CSI, Blachly, Tarbor Bozik & Hartman, Inspirado, BMO Harris Bank, First Midwest Bank, American Precision Services, Inc., Lakeside Wealth Management, Indiana Beverage, Horizon Bank, American Licorice Company, Service Sanitation, GNIAR, Anthem, Regional Federal Credit Union, Tom James of Chicago, Meyers Glaros Group, Horseshoe Casino and many others - plus the individual donors who made up most of the Night of Flight guest list, impacted the local club kids who were present.
Marcus Steele Jr., Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana Club member, Youth of the Year Award nominee and one of the night’s keynote speakers, presented his Club Director, Rose Joiner who has worked with the organization for more than 35 years, the MAYTAG DEPENDABLE LEADER AWARD, which included a plaque for Rose and $20,000 grant for STEM programming for the Clubs. Marcus also gave voice to his deep gratitude.
"I want to thank everybody— to my mentors, my leaders, my family, my friends, everybody that's helped me along the way— thank you," Steele Jr. said. “My Grandma once said it takes a village to raise a child, and tonight, I want you all to know that each of you supporting Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana, are MY village.”