It was a night of trying to break down barriers while uplifting others.
About 350 people attended the 10th annual Proud To Be Me gala held at the Brookstreet Hotel May 6.
Founded in 2011, the not-for-profit raises money for community resources, organizations and programs to help empower and educate youth about inclusion and anti-bullying.
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Cindy Cutts, co-founder and executive director of Proud To Be Me, said programs aimed at stopping bullying have decreased in recent years and faced further cuts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is a gap between schools and legislation,” she said. “There have been a lot of programs that have been defunded and there is this lack of education for teachers, parents and youth. We help provide resources and funding to fill those gaps.”
According to Safe Canada, one-third of the population has experienced being bullied as a child, and 47 per cent of parents surveyed said they had at least one child who has been the victim of bullying. The incidents typically occur on school playgrounds or online.
This year’s gala theme was “glitter and glam.” Among the specialist guests in attendance were Supreme Court Justice Michelle O’Bansawin, former Ottawa Senators player Chris Phillips with his wife Erin, and renowned artist Katerina Mertikas, who donated a painting to be auctioned at the event.
The gala’s title sponsor was the Bank of Montreal (BMO), which has been a longtime supporter.
“Bullying is a real crisis in our community and it’s happening every day. Looking away is not an answer; it’s not going to make it go away,” said Vittorio Pellegrino, BMO’s regional president. “Every time you see (bullying) it’s your responsibility to put a stop to it. Walking away because it’s not your son or daughter is not going to stop it.”
The night was emceed by Los Angeles-based Gary Cannon, who also took care of the night’s auction. At least $150,000 was raised, a record for the gala.
Cutts, who considered stopping the annual event when the pandemic hit, said she hopes the gala will return every year for another decade.
“I’m so surprised because, in the 10 years we have done this, this has been the smoothest and easiest year yet,” she said. “We always like to bring the fun. People describe this gala as a wedding they go to.”
Proud To Be Me is looking ahead to its next event. On June 6, Youth Day will see 240 kids ages 7-12 attend Saunders Farm for a day of empowerment filled with speakers and workshop leaders.