Move over Wonder Woman!
Have you ever wondered who was behind lavish and tightly executed fundraiser events? I am referring to the ones that raise jaw dropping amounts, and have everything to show for it, the ones where you actually have a good time: eat a great meal with friends, try your luck at a lottery and maybe even bid on something cool and different, then again later at a live auction? Usually, the scope of offerings and "money-spent-to-money-raise" is reserved for a well known cause, something along the lines of the Red Cross Ball or some other mega charity with a team of event planners and professional fundraisers on board. The last thing that comes to mind is a school fundraising event, but this time it really was a school fundraising, or a Gala I should say for: The French Amercian School of New York (aka FASNY) on Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Westchester County New York.
My husband and I were pleased to be invited but what should we expect? Our host kindly emailed everyone - to be seated at her table - the official invitation, which read "Black Tie Optional", meaning one could come in full evening attire or do as you please. Just to be clear, she added her own recommendations: "tenue de cocktail" (cocktail attire) for women and "costume sombre" (dark suits) for men. Days before the event, my husband and I were still puzzled over what to wear. Should he or not wear his tux? Should I wear a long gown, an evening suit or a fancy dress? Well, he wore his tux after all and I wound up just wearing a "little black dress" (remember: you can't go wrong with this!)
Yours truly with my husband, Norbert
The event took place at the Brae Burn Country Club in Purchase, New York. The country club sits on a hill looking over a golf course. The sun was setting as we left the parking lot and took on the steep incline towards the club entrance. It was freezing cold and as we hurried up the path, we passed other guests in full party attire: men in smart suits and in tuxedos, lovely women in evening dresses, teetering in their high heels, everyone walking at a fast clip, eager for warmth. To our surprise, as we entered the country club, a lavish fête was well underway. Bartenders wove their way through the crowd, carrying trays with odd blue colored cocktails, glasses of champagne and an assortment of other drinks. There were lively conversations everywhere, with different groups of friends gathered, huddled in circles around us. "Ah! Comment ça va?" "How are you?" "Ma chérie, tu es ravissante!" "You are resplendent my dear!"... English, French! It all was happening, right here, in this peculiar French/American and International Community of FASNY aquaintances, parents and friends. Everyone had their "raison d'être" this evening. We were quickly swept into the glittery current of this fascinating evening, and it was only just getting started.
Cocktail hour, checking on silent bids.
After the drinks hour, we were summoned to our tables for the evening's program to begin.
The head of the school, Joel Peinado, was the first to speak, welcoming everyone to the 2018 Gala, named appropriately :"The Sky is the Limit". The Gala Chair, Anne Béliard, took to the stage. A very attractive woman, obviously appreciated by many, she was described as a "tireless and fearless Gala Chair", who along with her Gala Committee, "had unstoppable energy, creativity and commitment to the school".
Anne Béliard, Gala Chair
Who would have thought that such a spectacular celebration could have worked out so seamlessly with just a handful of volunteers to pull it off? There was a Champagne bar, a lavish dinner, a live and silent auction - under the direction of a well known auctioneer: Lucas Hunt from Hunt Auctioneers - with a professional DJ (DJ Suhel), to dance the evening away. The gala commitee carefully selected the evening's honoree: international banking executive Rene-Pierre Azria and solicited an impressive list of corporate sponsors: Merrill Lynch/US Trust, Shiseido, Chanel, LVMH and L'Oréal, to name but a few.
One of the corporate tables
The most impressive feat of all was the amount they raised: $905,000.00. That is great work!
The importance FASNY has to this community is clear. The school places an emphasis on bilingualism to educate globally literate, life long learners who understand, contribute and thrive in an increasingly connected world. The outpoor of support for the school proved how effective fundraising can be, especially when people share the same values and place an international education as the best preparation for their children's future. It certainly helps when people have the means to give, and for the most part, this population does. However, soliciting funds for a school still requires diligent work and imagination, all of which was admirably displayed that evening.
I decided to profile the Gala Chair, Anne Béliard, because of her accomplishment that evening and past events as the Gala Chair but also to show the admirable woman as she really is, in her private life.
Anne accepting flowers for all her hard work
A bit about Anne
We met in her beautiful Larchmont home where I was welcomed to speak with her over coffee in her sunny living room. Her warm and relaxed manner put me at ease right away.
Anne at home, relaxed and gracious
I learned she is from the 16th arrondissement in Paris. She went to ISG, a business school in Paris, then worked in London at LVMH for the last year of her school internship. She then went back to Paris to work for Saint- Gobain, the world's largest building materials company - their history stretches back to the creation of the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles - where she stayed three years. She then left the company to follow her husband to his job posting in Miami. She loved being in the United States. While there, the couple traveled a lot. It was in Miami that they had their first child (a boy), and soon after, her husband was posted in Tokyo, Japan. The first year in Japan was difficult. Anne felt isolated in the area they had chosen, far from the French community and soon was pregnant with their second child (another boy). The second year was a lot easier for the family. They moved closer to where she could find other French people, took Japanese lessons, cooking and caligraphy. After 3 years in Japan, they left for Milan, Italy. Once again, Anne became pregnant with their third son. The couple stayed five years in Milan, where they had their youngest, a fourth son! They returned to the United States once again, this time settling in Westchester, where Anne and her family have been happily settled for the past seven years.
Anne described their hometown, Larchmont as a tight-knit, safe community close to the Long Island Sound, with green stretches of parks and plenty of outdoor activities for her four sons. The proximity to New York City is a distinct advantage for quality of living many "Larchmontois "enjoy.
As soon as the family enrolled the boys at FASNY, she immediately became a parent/teacher representative, making herself available to address parent concerns and those of the school. She put herself to work the yearly school Gala and Chaired the previous one themed "Havana Nights". Two years ago, the amount pulled in for the school was $619,000. Last year, it was $891,000. Most of the Gala co-chairs did not want to take on the responsibility of working the Gala a second time, either for fear of losing the funding increase or for other reasons. The school director came to see Anne, pleading for her to come back for the second year. Anne confided the enormous time investment required to put such a feat together. It was a demanding seven day a week schedule (even weekends) from September to March, with full days most of the time. Anne chose the theme for this year's Gala : "The Sky Is The Limit", amongst other high aims, it could be a subliminal message to surpass last year's amount. She had six other women under her direction: two for Corporate sponsors, 2 for the silent auctions, 2 for decoration and 2 others who helped in all other areas. The final result was a clear success as they surpassed last year's total making Anne very proud of all the work done. Of the $905,00 total amount, the school sets $100,000 aside for scholarships.
I asked Anne to tell me some advantages of a school like FASNY. She reported all classes were bilingual, meaning all subjects and all teachers are bilingual. By 10th grade students decide which exam to take (at the same time as the SAT's). She feels the acceptance rate to top colleges speak for the school. She always took pride in doing all she could for this wonderful educational system.
Anne loves New York City and the family plans to move there sometime in the near future. The Lycee Francais de New York - LFNY - will have to make room for this energetic mover and shaker!