Don't let the name fool you, A Night in the Secret Garden was not meant to be a covert and quiet affair.
The brand new gala for the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa burst onto the social scene Thursday night without any trace of secrecy. Rather, the benefit got its fun and lively message across so loud and clear that bylaw even dropped by.
Nearly 400 supporters arrived to the marvellous party via a giant keyhole-shaped entrance. The evening was all about delicious food and drinks, casual mingling and conversation, fun games and activities, live music and unabashed dancing, in support of the non-profit organization.
The gala, held at the newly renovated and renamed Tomlinson Family Foundation Clubhouse on Prince of Wales Drive, was expected to net at least $140,000, according to modest preliminary numbers.
The evening featured live music by the Jackson Miles Band and food stations from such reputable restaurants as La Bottega, Riviera, Beckta, Coconut Lagoon, North & Navy, and Pure Kitchen, along with desserts from Maverick Donuts and Sundae School.
Organizers brought out the culinary best for this fundraiser, chaired by Mr. Hospitality himself, Stephen Beckta. He's the owner of Beckta Dining & Wine, along with its sister restaurants, Play and Gezellig. He's also the board chair of the BGCO.
He was joined on the planning committee by realtor Sarah Grand from Engel & Völkers, Regional Group senior vice president Bernie Myers, Huntington Properties partner Derek Noble, Richcraft Homes executive vice-president Monica Singhal, Tamarack Homes planning and development director Michelle Taggart, Jacqui Wilson, and Gary Zed, CEO of Treehouse Family Advisory. The committee also included BGCO staff Virgilia Partridge and Jennifer Baca.
The presenting sponsor was Mark Motors Group, which had some of its shiny new Audi, Porsche, Maserati and Alfa Romeo dream cars on display that night.
Singhal’s family-owned company, Richcraft Homes, was a major sponsor. So was telecom giant Rogers, represented by Heidi Bonnell, vice president of federal government affairs.
Organizers left out tedious speeches in favour of some brief thank-yous and inspiring words from Beckta, who credits the BGCO and its former clubhouse in Centretown for getting him on the right path in life. He may be a successful restaurateur today but, during his youth, he faced some hard times.
“The people at the club really cared about me and they offered me a special place that changed the trajectory of my life,” said Beckta, using a picnic table as his stage to address the crowd. “This allowed me a different future, one that has led me to be here with you tonight.”
The organization currently reaches out to 4,500 local children and youth each year, providing them after-school, weekend and summer programming — at no cost. Many of the kids live in some of Ottawa’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods.
The gala is just one example of how a younger group of businesspeople is accepting new leadership roles at the BGCO. “It’s really great to see,” said CIBC Wood Gundy investment advisor Steve Gallant, who founded the Ringside for Youth charity boxing night. It just celebrated its 25th and final year, having raised more than $3.5 million. "I think this gala has a really good vibe and is unique to Ottawa. I could see this becoming huge."
Former BGCO board chair Graham Macmillan said such changes are necessary. “It’s really important for any organization to have this kind of major turnover,” said Macmillan. He's still part of the BGCO board. His main role, these days, however, is simply to nod in agreement.
Beckta was joined on his picnic table platform by best buddy Harley Finkelstein, COO of Shopify, and Finkelstein's wife, Lindsay Taub, owner of Sundae School. The couple announced that they were going to play a game that would see them donate up to $10,000 in matching funds. Guests were willing to donate $250, $500, $1,000 and even $10,000 amounts, resulting in a total of $49,000.
Finkelstein, being the gregarious guy that he is, popped up again later in the evening as the surprise guest DJ. That got everyone dancing, including Roger Greenberg, executive chair of Minto and one of the partners of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. Talk about life of the party; Greenberg later jumped up on stage to accompany Finkelstein in his music-playing duties.
Auctioned off in support of the cause was a behind-the-scenes experience for four at the Gusto TV studio in Ottawa, donated by Gusto Worldwide Media CEO Chris Knight. It sold for $3,000 to architect Danica Robertson of Robertson Martin Architects.
Beckta addressed the "elephant not in the room": the no-show ferris wheel. Organizers had booked, paid for and prepared to bring in the amusement ride but learned at the last minute that it had been sold to the Renfrew Fair. Their back-up plan involved a hot-air balloon but it ended up being too windy for it to safely take flight. Beckta, who has a reputation for putting his customers first, jokingly promised to drive any guest — who desperately wanted to ride a ferris wheel — out to Renfrew.
The crowd was packed with business people, including Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg, Tomlinson Group president Kevin Cinq-Mars, Paramount Properties principal Ken Ages, David Segal of DavidsTea and Mad Radish fame, and Leikin Group president Barbara Farber, to name just a few. Among the fresh-faced folks from Shopify was Alexandra Clark, chief of staff to the CEO. She bears a striking resemblance to her famous TV journalist father, Tom Clark, who was also there that night. He's now working with Global Public Affairs.