More than 350 guests gathered at The Astorian for Writers in the Schools’ eighth annual gala, this year themed “Free to Be,” in celebration of the non-profit, which engages children in the pleasure and power of reading and writing.
The evening began with a cocktail hour where attendees were greeted by skyline views of downtown and several student poets, on-hand to write original poems. Attendees then enjoyed playing video games created by WITS student storytellers before event emcee, internationally-acclaimed poet Outspoken Bean, began the program with an original poem.
Gala chairs Mitra Woody and Ryan Leach spoke about the importance of literacy and creativity for Houston’s children before Ashley Turner, daughter of Mayor Sylvester Turner, took the stage to announce Fareena Arefeen as City of Houston’s second Youth Poet Laureate. The 17-year-old, who is a student at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, shared a poem and captivating story about her background and love of writing.
After a multi-course dinner, honorary chair Lisa Helfman presented Sara Speer Selber with the 2016 WITS Free to Be Award, who worked with the organization during her time leading AIDS Foundation Houston.
This year’s fundraising efforts included a unique silent auction with artwork inspired by student poems, commissioned flash-fiction, and pieces by Houston artists Nicola Parente and Marlo Saucedo, raised the most of any year at $200,000 for Writers in the Schools.
The event raised a record-breaking $200,000 for Writers in the Schools.
Seen in the crowd were Houston Public Library director Rhea Brown Lawson, Ryan Leach, Beth Bernal, Jackie Martin, Jack and Ellie Sweeney, Joan and Stanford Alexander, F. Xavier Pena, Long Chu, Houston City Council members Karla Cisneros, Mike Knox, and Steve Le., Sue Lovell, Stephanie Larsen, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Houston poet laureate Robin Davidson, Laura Bhatia, Shannon Buggs, and auction chair Beth Bernal.
Also joining in the fun were Scott Van Beck, Shari Koziel, Barry Mandel and Scott Sawyer, Esther Perrine, Heather Simpson, MaryScott Hagle and David Kornbert, Melanie Malinowski and Andy Cunningham, Marlo Saucedo, Ryan Lindsay, Sheleah Reed, Carliss Chatman, Meredith Vela, and Josephine and Bill Rice.