A storm may have been raging outside, but inside of The International, Perkins Inaugural Evening Under the Stars, Creating Bright Futures gala was warming hearts and causing smiles.
Trustee Nancy Eckersley (left), Ron Suskind, and CEO Michael Ames (right).
The night began with a literal bang as the skies opened up and dumped a month’s worth of rain in two hours as supporters staff and friends were making their way to the event. The gala was attended by 200 of Perkins strongest supporters.
The event began with a lovely station based meal and opening remarks from Chief Executive Officer Michael Ames. “It’s great to see so many new and old friends of Perkins here tonight, here to support and celebrate our work as part of our inaugural Evening Under The Stars,” he said. The event was then turned over to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind who regaled the audience with his family’s story.
Suskind – a well-known political writer – was at the event to discuss his latest book “LIFE, Animated” which is the story of how his family brought his autistic son back to them through the use of Disney movies.
In what can only be called an engaging talk – Suskind spoke eloquently and with great passion about his son Owen, who at the age of three suddenly stopped speaking and retreated into his own world. “My nearly perfect life was suddenly flipped on its’ head as we met with doctor after doctor in hopes of hearing about a solution or a cure,” Suskind said. What they found instead (quite by accident) was that the answer lay cloaked in the colorful cases of the Disney movies Owen loved.
Ron’s wife Cornelia, his eldest son Walt and Ron himself slowly learned that Owen had what they called an affinity for Disney movies and was using them as a way to communicate out to the world at large. Ron believes that an affinity taps into who the child wishes to be and is expressed through a passion for that particular thing. In Owen’s case, that thing is Disney movies.
Trustee Dana Hollinshead.
Along with the book, Ron and his family have also created a new app called Sidekicks that allows autistic children to speak to others and express themselves through a cartoon avatar that was released to a chosen audience in August. The documentary of “LIFE, Animated” was released in July.
Ron connected to Perkins work and the lives of many of our clients by regularly referencing particular individuals. Later in the evening, while signing books for many – Ron connected with each and every person as though they were the only one in line. The emotion in many people was raw and visible as they spoke with Ron about the miracle of finding a connection with his lost son.
“What does he love,” Ron asked many as they approached him for an autograph. “What can you connect with him around or about? Find it and feed it, that’s the secret.”
Many walked away from the book signing wiping tears and believing – perhaps for the first time – that there was hope for their “sidekicks.” A sidekick is the person that helps the hero on his journey and teaches him that he matters. Owen regularly refers to himself and his family members as sidekicks.
Today, Owen is living in an independent living community with his girlfriend and others like them. He has his own YouTube Channel.
“Owen and his friends teach me every day how to be a better person,” Ron said. “I ask him, and others like him, to teach me what they know. I want them to teach me what they love, and when I find it, I feed it.”
As Ron’s speech climaxed, several cell phones began to beep warnings of the storm raging outside. The skies lit up with lightening causing Ron to point out that “you have no idea what I pay for that kind of support.” This brought gales of laughter and an understanding that despite the storms that may be raging around your life, there is always reason to smile.
The event concluded with closing remarks from Trustee Carol Francolini Mueller and Michael. “What a great night!” Michael said. “Ron Suskind’s story of hope and perseverance is so important and has lessons for us all. I believe that everyone walked away from the evening with a greater understanding of the work we do and of the important role that love, hope and persistence can play for those we serve. We are grateful to all of our sponsors and to everyone who joined us for this wonderful night.”
Gala goers perusing the auction items.
As folks wandered to the doors wondering if they would be swimming home, several stopped to shake Ron’s hand, have a book signed or grab a quick hug.
As events go – it’s one that will be remembered for many reasons – chief among them being that weathering a storm with strong supporters, a great speaker and a hearty laugh will make not only an Inaugural gala, but life, worthwhile.
Click here to view the picture gallery from the evening.