Butterfly Ball Deux Benefit for Gwendolyn’s Playground

By Joanne A Calitri   |   November 22, 2022
Victoria Strong with Nora and Michael Hurley (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

On a most chilly Saturday, November 12, the second Butterfly Ball fundraiser for Gwendolyn’s Playground took flight, raising spirits and funds at the Dos Pueblos Ranch. This intimate and elegant evening for over 300 attendees heated up with lavish dress and renditions of butterflies paired with fur to fend off the frigid Gaviota coastal temps. And for this East Coast gal, it was a tad more than official “sweater weather,” as I wore ‘The Sinclair,’ a luxuriously warm cashmere button down courtesy of Kelly Finefrock of KULE Montecito (compliments and sweater envy did ensue). For most ladies it was flowing designer runway silk dresses, sequined onesies, gold metal and jeweled Paris cocktail bags, cuffs, butterfly deco wool fedoras, and those in Jimmy Choo stilettos were honored at check in with heel protectors. The gents went vogue with raw silk and embroidered suits, butterflies on neckerchiefs and top-pocket hankies – though not to be outdone by celebrity emcee Andrew Firestone with model-spouse Ivana, who raised significant funds with his live auction skills. Keynote speaker was Victoria Strong, founder of the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation, who donned a gold crown of butterflies and Grecian gold pleated sleeveless ball gown. She, with husband Bill, shared about their daughter Gwendolyn and their journey learning about disabilities and access for children, as well as their strong commitment to make a difference in the lives of children and adults with disabilities. They presented a short film about the foundation, funding, and the plans for the playground, which will start next year, along with Advisory Board member Analise Maggio helping share their vision to the wing-studded crowd.

Foundation advisory board member Sarah Paskin and founder Victoria Strong (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

A line of cocktail staff with adult bubbly beverages and nibbles greeted guests. The first location area held dual bars with specialty drinks and wines, intermixed with volunteers next to easels holding enlarged plans for the fully accessible playground, and “butterfly dancers” from Santa Barbara Dance Academy flying around. The ranch greenhouse sported all the live and silent auction items, as well as those who wanted to escape the cold to sip drinks and enjoy the warmth of their friends. The garden lawn dinner tables were formally set and decorated with large roses, and the wood dance floor was surrounded by bamboo lounges set to the groovy downbeat sounds of Gavin Roy Presents. After dinner, speeches, and auctions, peeps were dancing, munching on cheese plates, and taking cookies for the ride home.

Noted guests were Mary Firestone and Paul Fraser, Katrina Sprague and Justin Fantl, Marianne Sprague, Jessica Sprague, Bruce Davis,Analise Maggioand Ben Sprague, Tom Rollerson and Michael Erickson, Lucy Firestone and Hayden Felice, Mehera Blum, Nora and Michael Hurley, Robin and Roger Himovitz, Christina Bentley, Tess Council, Emily Gardner, Karie Ide, Beth Magid, Sylvie Rich, Nick Bartolo, Joshua Lippiner, Kelly Almeroth, Laura Capps, Katie Crocker, Jenny Deakyne, Marina Delio, Ronda Fallon, Grace Fisher, Erin Galbraith, Erinn Lynch, Alixe Mattingly, JJ McLeod, Sarah Paskin, and Jillian Pirozzi.

The event brought in $750,000, which included a matching $200,000 from the Sprague family. A key moment was Summerland residents Nora McNeely Hurley and musician husband Michael of the Manitou Fund granting $1M for the multi-story “Magical Tree,” who shared with me, “One of the long-term pillars of focus for my family and the Manitou Fund is access. Access is key not only for a diversity of representation – access is also about achieving more multifaceted perspectives, empathy, respect, and understanding for all walks of life. Providing accessibility for all to nature and outdoor recreation has been a long-time passion of our family. Our support is first and foremost for the organizational mission. It will be recognized specifically for the Magical Tree and all the wonders that it will offer, yet my investment is really in the Strongs’ incredible vision, which I trust implicitly. Gwendolyn’s Playground will benefit generations of deserving children and their families well into the future. I am humbled, thrilled, and grateful for the opportunity to support this project, an artful, impactful destination for play and a source of great happiness and positivity in our community.” 

With founder Victoria Strong adding:

Funding needed? We were at $4M prior to the event tonight, and gained $750,000 at the event, which leaves $1.25M remaining for the $6M goal.

Ground breaking date? We received unanimous approval by the Planning Commission and the Architectural Board of Review gave us the approval to begin construction drawings, which we are doing now. We will go back to ABR for final approval in the spring, with plans to break ground this time next year. Construction will take roughly a year.

Is this a blueprint for playgrounds in other communities?

The design and vision for Gwendolyn’s Playground have come from my heart and research in studying the best inclusive spaces around the world. Some design choices were made to best utilize the topography of the space so that will be unique to Santa Barbara. And the Magical Tree is a custom, one-of-a-kind piece. However, other aspects of the playground can be replicated, and I am already consulting with other communities on their inclusive playground projects.

Your mission? Every child deserves to play. It is a fundamental right of childhood and yet not a single public park is accessible in Santa Barbara, which means 25% of the population is segregated from the rest of the community. In building Gwendolyn’s Playground, not only are we finally giving access to all community members, but we are also cultivating opportunities to bring people together in joy, dismantling stigma along the way.

Thanks to The Good Lion, Artiste Winery, the Himovitz Family & the Dos Pueblos Institute, Duo Events, PunkMe Tender, Pedro de la Cruz, Justin Fantl, Amber and Andrew O’Neill, Mildred E & Harvey S Mudd Foundation, Montecito Bank & Trust, Mosher Foundation, Natalie Orfalea Foundation, Rudi Schulte Family Foundation, Alice Tweed Tuohy Foundation, BMW SB, and Yardi Systems.  

411: nevergiveup.org


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