The 13th annual Teaming Up for Girls Luncheon, benefiting Florence Crittenton, celebrated champions in the community March 6 at the Arizona Biltmore.
When Debbie Gaby first began working with Florence Crittenton 20 years ago, the home for girls occupied a 22-room motel reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” Ms. Gaby remembered.
“When I think about how far Florence Crittenton has come since the very beginning, it touches my heart,” she told guests at the March 6 luncheon.
Ms. Gaby was presented with the Visionary Award, becoming the first person to receive the award in two years. Not granted every year, the Visionary Award recognizes leaders in the community who have been an inspiration to others.
“This is just so very, very special to me. You have no idea how thrilled I am to be here,” Ms. Gaby said.
Shanna Parker received the Hope Award at the luncheon, recognizing her efforts in changing the lives of others.
A victim of sex trafficking when she was 13-years-old, Ms. Parker founded AngelsGoToWork in 2012 to be an advocate for victims of human trafficking. Her novel, “And he called me Angel, One Survivor’s Story,” was released just weeks ago.
“I would like to thank Florence Crittenton and all of you for the work you do,” Ms. Parker addressed luncheon guests. “I am honored to receive the Hope Award.”
Keynote speaker at the luncheon was Olympic swimmer and six-time gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen. Diagnosed with asthma as a young girl and picked last for her high school swim team, Ms. Van Dyken shared advice born from experience: “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?”
Ms. Van Dyken won her first swim race at 13-years-old, and would qualify for Olympic trial cuts as a senior in high school.
In 2014, Ms. Van Dyken severed her spine in an ATV accident. Although she admittedly failed debate class in high school, she now tours as a public speaker sharing her story and the one question that has motivated her throughout her life: “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?”
“For every challenge faced, don’t look at it as a wall you can’t get through. Every single wall you come across is a chance for you to learn,” Ms. Van Dyken said. “Live every single day as your last day because you don’t know if it is. If you’re sad, be sad for a moment and then smile.”
The Florence Crittenton Girls Leadership Academy of Arizona now occupies its own campus near downtown Phoenix. The high school is Arizona’s only public, single-gender college preparatory school, according to information distributed at the luncheon.
The Teaming Up for Girls Luncheon benefits students of the high school. Guests participated in silent auctions, raffles and Dream Bag donations to raise money for the local nonprofit.
Dream Bags are unique to the Teaming Up for Girls Luncheon, according to Deborah Bateman, event chairperson. Guests’ tables compete to raise the most donations, and the tables that raise the most money receive gift baskets.
New to the event this year were Mystery Boxes, which are silent auction items containing gift cards, jewelry, Arizona Diamondbacks tickets, and other gifts valued at a minimum of $100.
“Everybody really likes them,” third-year volunteer Erica Escobedo confirmed.
“There’s so much enthusiasm and curiosity, everybody’s reaction is really good.”
The 75 mystery boxes sold out within the first hours of the event, said Ms. Escobedo, pausing to cheer with other table volunteers when one guest opened a box of Arizona Diamondbacks tickets.
Florence Crittenton will host open house tours of the Girls Leadership Academy of Arizona 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on April 7 and May 12. Go to www.flocrit.org.
Ms. Walker is a freelance journalist under contract with the North Valley Office of Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA