2019 Portraits of Hope Gala: Surprises, Tears of Joy, and Acts of Kindness


This year’s Portraits of Hope Gala to benefit the Villa delivered­ – in a big way – on its theme, Acts of Kindness!

Hosted by Ted & Sue Cordes, and Jerry & Julie Warner, the evening began with the Silent Auction, organized by our Young Professionals Board. Items up for bid ranged from sports tickets and memorabilia, to weekend gataways, to theatre and dinner options. The hard work of our YPs paid off, pulling in nearly $19,000 for the Villa for the Silent Auction, alone!

Then dinner got underway, emceed by Villa Board Member and WROC Channel 8 Anchor and Managing Editor, Adam Chodak, and opened with thank yous to last year’s donors.

Chris Gullo, President and CEO, followed with thought-provoking remarks, where she pointed out some of our society’s realities on achieving the “American Dream.” While upward mobility has been possible for most of us, some kids growing up in Monroe County have a 2 percent chance of upward mobility to get to the top 20th percentile of income distribution. That places Monroe County 98th out of 100 of the most populous counties for upward mobility.

When examining National Characteristics of Higher Opportunity Neighborhoods, we find: 1. More stable family structures; 2. lower neighborhood poverty rates; 3. better school quality; and 4. greater social capital.

Villa programs work to support these four characteristics: 1. Family Therapy and Support; 2. Work Based Learning and Supported Employment; 3. expanding our day school; and 4. building relationships in the community. As Chris Gullo stated so well, “It takes a Villa, to break old patterns, and help our young people achieve upward mobility, live self-sufficient lives, and become contributing members of our communities.”

The evening continued with welcomes and remarks from our hosts, and thank-yous all around to the many volunteers and staff members who made the Gala possible; and special thanks to all of the evening’s sponsors, listed in the graphic below.


Starbucks was then recognized for their years of support to Villa youth, receiving our third annual “Champion of Hope” award.  This honor is awarded to a community leader or organization who has given tirelessly of themselves and helped the Villa to advance its mission of serving youth and families in Rochester. 

This year’s award recognized that, for over 10 years, Starbucks has been a partner with the Villa for the Holiday Wishes Program by committing every location in Monroe County for collecting holiday gifts for Villa youth and families. Each year, Starbucks also sends volunteers to the Villa to help wrap hundreds of gifts that have been donated and dropped off at their stores.  Holiday Wishes supplied gifts for over 700 youth last year, and our estimate is that over the last decade the value of the gifts collected at Starbucks stores is about a half million dollars!

Next up was the evening’s Keynote Speaker, Katelynn Jenkins, a 2016 Avalon graduate who generously shared her personal story with the audience of over 400.  

She recounted her middle school to high school years, and said, “I’m not sure how or when things got bad; but they did.” She shared her years of depression, her attempts at suicide, and her eventual safe landing at Villa of Hope, where she got the help she needed. She learned coping strategies, and found out that she loved to learn. At the Villa, she was able to complete high school a year early; and with a combination of scholarships, now attends Roberts Wesleyan College with a “full ride.”

Katelynn, an International Business Major who is traveling the world now, credits her current trajectory with the foundation she gained from the Villa. With her family and friends in the audience, cheering her on with tears of joy, she told the audience that if we were to all band together, we could help each and every kid in our community achieve their potential. Her words brought the audience to their feet.

Intense pride, emotion, acts of kindness . . . this year’s Portraits of Hope Gala had it all.

And let’s not forget fun. Who had the most fun at the Gala? That’s a tough call, but we think most attendees would agree it was Grace, a current Villa resident who attended as a representative for our Work Based Learning program. Grace can be seen in the new Work Based Learning video, which was playing in the silent auction hall during the evening. She was wearing a satin and lace taupe ball gown and shoes, which staff had taken her to shop for, and she had her hair done in beautiful curls. She attended the event with Assistant Program Manager, Domonique Jones, and could be seen until the band finished their last number, dancing the night away! (In photo below: Domonique Jones, Grace, and Jane DeRue.)

Her joy was understandable, because, a little earlier, Chris Gullo had told the audience, “We have a special surprise this evening.” She then called Grace to the stage, the young woman who had “truly found her voice,” and who was this year’s recipient of the Villa’s MCC Scholarship, courtesy of the MCC Foundation. Grace took the microphone, and told the audience how the Villa, and Work Based Learning, had changed her life. It was only when she turned and accepted the certificate for the scholarship that she grasped what it truly was, and burst into tears, with Chris right there with her. There was not a dry eye in the audience, and for the second time, the room was on its feet with a standing ovation.  

Overall, the Portraits of Hope Gala surpassed its budgeted and net goals, with 100% of funds raised after expenses going to the youth, families and individuals in our area that so desperately need our services. Director of Development, Catherine Orlandini, sums it up well: “It is a happy day here at Villa of Hope and it is all due to YOU!  You have made an impact on the lives of the youth and adults that we work with every day – we could not have done this without your support, generosity, commitment and friendship.  We are eternally grateful.”

Click here to check out our full Gala photo gallery on our Facebook page.

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