Twinkle Gala draws business leaders, philanthropists to make fundraising history for Ottawa Hospital

Tiniest, most vulnerable patients to benefit from star-studded, $5,000-a-ticket benefit at Michael Potter's mansion
Twinkle Gala

All the stars aligned for the Twinkle Gala, creating a magical and flawless evening that unfolded Thursday in the the Rockcliffe Park backyard party paradise belonging to Ottawa tech pioneer Michael Potter.

The $5,000-a-plate gala, presented by the charitable Lift Foundation, began with more than 200 ticket-purchasers and their grateful guests strolling through a pretend portal of time to reach the Alice in Wonderland-inspired event. There, attendees discovered through the course of the whimsical evening just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

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Michael Potter, seen with his partner Diane Cramphin, opened up his estate for the inaugural Twinkle Gala held on Sunday, June 8, 2017, in support of the neonatal intensive care unit at The Ottawa Hospital's General campus. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)
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More than 200 attendees dined under this massive party tent erected in Michael Potter's backyard in support of The Ottawa Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit at the General campus, on Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

Proceeds from the evening will go toward a $5-million fundraising campaign to provide the best possible care for premature and critically ill newborns at The Ottawa Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the General campus.  Organizers were hopeful that the Twinkle Gala would bring them very close to reaching the campaign goal.

The only negative to the night was the realization that there were guests in the crowd that had gone through the agonizing experience of losing a baby. Mark Shabinsky, president of Glenview, took up the cause after his grandson, Joseph, died at age five weeks, on Jan. 10, 2016, at the NICU's General campus.

Shabinsky was able to quietly collect large donations for the NICU in the months leading up to the Twinkle Twinkle Future Stars Gala, the largest third-party fundraising event ever held for The Ottawa Hospital.

The campaign, thanks to the fundraising efforts of the prominent and well-liked Shabinsky clan and to the family's own generous donation to the cause, had passed the $3-million mark prior to the Twinkle Gala. 

“He took a bad situation and rather than letting my grandson die in vain he’s making a difference, so that hopefully what happened to my grandson will never happen again,” wife Lynn Shabinsky told OBJ.social.

The Shabinsky family is not alone. “When you go out and start talking with people about making donations, everybody has a story. Our story is sad, but everyone has a story,” she added.

If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s that Joseph’s twin brother Isaac, who was also a patient of the NICU, turned 18 months old on the evening of the gala.

The Ottawa Hospital delivers roughly 6,000 babies a year. Of that number, more than 800 end up in the NICU.

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From left, honourary co-chair Roger Greenberg with Mark Shabinsky at the Twinkle Gala held in Rockcliffe Park on Thursday, June 8, 2017, in support of The Ottawa Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit at for premature and critically ill babies at the General campus. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

The gala presented an all-star roster of Canadian talent with legendary Randy Bachman, proud Newfoundlander Alan Doyle and powerhouse Serena Ryder all rocking the room.

The very funny Mark Critch from This Hour has 22 Minutes fame was there to emcee, or, as he put it, fulfill the role of dancing monkey. He introduced gala co-chair and volunteer fundraiser extraordinaire Gary Zed as being so Canadian that his last name is Zed (as opposed to Zee, which is how our American friends would pronounce it).

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From left, Canadian singer-songwriters Alan Doyle and Serena Ryder with Mark Critch at the Twinkle Gala held at the Rockcliffe Park home of Michael Potter on Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)
Twinkle Gala
Randy Bachman, formerly from the legendary Canadian bands The Guess Who and BTO, performed his classic hits at a fundraiser presented Thursday, June 8, 2017 by the Lift Foundation in support of The Ottawa Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit at its General campus. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

Plans to specifically hold the NICU benefit at Potter’s breathtaking estate all started over a backyard play structure, the room heard. Potter, a father of three daughters, realized it was finally time to get rid of the thing, while Zed saw this as an opportunity to erect in its place some massive party tents with staging and a dining area.  

“I’m actually standing where Mike Potter used to have a very, very large play structure, back in March,” Zed told the crowd. “Mike called me up and said, ‘Gary, do you know anybody who wants a play structure?’ And I said, ‘No, but I know two great doctors that want to throw a great party, if you can get rid of your play structure’.”

Zed, co-founder of the charitable Lift Foundation, chaired the gala with Dr. Pradeep Merchant, a perinatologist and site chief of neonatology at the Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital, and Dr. George Tawagi, chief of obstetrics at The Ottawa Hospital.

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From left, Gary Zed co-chairs the Twinkle Gala with Ottawa doctors Pradeep Merchant and George Tawagi in support of The Ottawa Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at its General campus. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

Sponsors in the crowd included everyone from Mike McGahan, president of CLV Group, to Liza Mrak, executive vice president at Mark Motors Audi dealership, to Peter Nicholson, president of WCPD, to real estate lawyer Charles Saikaley, to John Lindgren, an IP consultant with Tessera Technologies, and his wife, Crickett.

Potter was honourary co-chair with Roger Greenberg, executive chair of The Minto Group, and John Ruddy, executive chair of Trinity Development. The latter two gentlemen were late arriving to the gala due to the Ottawa RedBlacks' preseason game (they're part-owners of the football team).

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From left, John Ruddy, Michael Potter and Roger Greenberg  served as honourary co-chairs of the Twinkle Gala held at Potter's Rockcliffe Park estate on Thursday, June 8, 2017, in support of The Ottawa Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit at the General campus. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)
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Mike McGahan, president of CLV Group, with his wife, Jill, at the Twinkle Gala held at Mike Potter's residence in Rockcliffe Park on Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)
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Peter Nicholson, president of WCPD, with his spouse, Anabel, at the Twinkle Gala held at Mike Potter's estate in Rockcliffe Park on Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)
 
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Liza Mrak, executive vice president of Mark Motors, with Kevin Bonn on Thursday, June 8, 2017, at the Twinkle Gala held at Mike Potter's estate in Rockcliffe Park in support of The Ottawa Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the General campus. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

 

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From left, lawyer Charles Saikaley with Michael Potter and Claude Bonnet, owner of Moulin de Provence, at the Twinkle Gala held at Potter's residence on Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

 

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John Lindgren and his wife, Crickett, at the Twinkle Gala held Thursday, June 8, 2017, at the Rockcliffe Park estate of Michael Potter in support of The Ottawa Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit at the General campus. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

Invited guests included Dr. Jack Kitts, president and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, and Tim Kluke, chief executive of its foundation, as well as Shopify COO Harley Finkelstein and some of his colleagues. There were enough obstetrical doctors in the room that the pregnant women were in safe hands, should their water have broken that night.

The evening featured food stations and harvest table-style dining beneath delightfully decorated party tents. The gourmet dishes were collaboratively prepared by Chefs Marc Lepine (Atelier), Pat Garland (Absinthe), Justin Faubert (Thyme & Again), Chris Deraiche (Wellington Gastropub), Tim Stock (Play food & wine) and Joe Thottungal (Coconut Lagoon).

As well, young actors from 100 Watt Productions performed in character from Alice in Wonderland during the poolside cocktail reception.

ZedEvents produced the gala while Event Design handled all the decor and Thyme & Again Creative Catering, led by owner Sheila Whyte, organized the food and drinks.

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Bartender Andy Jak got into the spirit of the Alice in Wonderland theme with his White Rabbit ears worn at the Twinkle Gala held at Mike Potter's estate on June 8, 2017. (Photo by Caroline Phillips) 
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From left, Clara Downey-Silcoff and Emma Hickey from 100 Watt Productions performed during the Alice in Wonderland-themed Twinkle Gala hosted by the Lift Foundation in support of The Ottawa Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit at the General campus. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

caroline@obj.ca