Austin Children’s Shelter Gala, Reach for the Stars, raised more than $830,000 for the children and youth in need in Central Texas. On November 14th, the event committee and co-chairs—Suzanne Newhouse and Shannon Schmitz—transformed the Hyatt Regency into a starry night for all 580 attendees. Before enjoying explosive performances from The 3 Painters and Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes, Kelly White—CEO of The SAFE Alliance and former Executive Director of Austin Children’s Shelter—took a moment introduce the new face of the shelter: Stacy Bruce.
“Through [the formation of The SAFE Alliance by Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace] we were able to take an amazing leader and give her the opportunity to step into a more public leadership role. It is with great pleasure and confidence that I turn over the ACS reigns to a very talented and deserving, Stacy Bruce!” praised Kelly White, as she welcomed Stacy Bruce to the podium with a warm embrace.
Stacy paused at the podium and gazed into the crowd—taking in the enormity of the moment: “There have been a few moments these past few months when I felt like, ‘this is REAL.’ This is one of those moments. I shared with a friend recently that sometimes it’s hard to understand the journey until you arrive at the destination you’ve been seeking all along. That’s how I feel about Austin Children’s Shelter. It is an honor and privilege to be here tonight.” She smiled, took a deep breath and went on to discuss the recent cottage renovations—expansions allowing for a 30% increase in the children the shelter is able to serve. As she concluded, she introduced us to Michael Whitley, a former foster youth served by ACS.
Michael eloquently shared his story, testifying to all that Austin Children’s Shelter does for our community and its children. He took us through his emotional journey through the foster care system, beginning with his first experience with ACS. In 2002, he arrived on campus as a scared and angry nine year old, so desperate to reunite with his mother that he ran away. He shared how the continued dedication and candid support of those at ACS—despite his initial behavioral outbursts—finally led him to a positive foster family placement. ”It took a while but I came to finally realize that Daniel was here to stay and from there I really flourished…Until Daniel, I had never experienced this kind of care from a strong male figure in my life…it was the critical relationship that made me into the person I am today!” Michael concluded by asking his family to stand and it only took a moment before the entire ballroom stood in applause.
Still touched by the incredible love of family, the screens turned to a video honoring two individuals who have changed the lives of many children affected by abuse and neglect in Central Texas—Ronda and Kelly Gray. Their family and friends told the room the story of their generosity and we celebrated the two with the presentation of the inaugural Guardian Award.
Each year, Austin Children’s Shelter must raise 65% of its operating budget through the generosity of our community and events like gala. “We are deeply grateful to all those who helped make the event possible, and whose attendance and support will help ensure that these children have the services they need to heal, find hope, believe in themselves and have the strength and perseverance to Reach for the Stars,” Stacy Bruce, Executive Director of Austin Children’s Shelter.