Big hearts, big money
Excited event planners create exciting events, and one couldn't help but wonder if the organizers of the 2019 Fort Worth Go Red for Women Luncheon bounced around their offices, exclaiming, "We'll put on a show! Then we'll bring out firefighters with blinky rings! Then we'll do champagne! Then we'll make everyone dance!"
From the moment the ballroom doors opened, the American Heart Association's mega-luncheon didn't skip a beat. Actually, it all started before the ballroom doors opened.
More than 500 guests — business leaders, philanthropists, heart disease survivors, and friends — gathered at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel on February 15 in support of AHA's fight against heart disease and stroke. The entire second floor of the hotel became a sea of red as patrons arrived donning the color of the day — prompting at least one curious tourist in the lobby to ask, "What's with all the ladies in red dresses?"
With mimosas in hand and a string ensemble serenading, guests — including Tulisha Buchanan, Lillian Buchanan, Gaylan Hendricks, Lisa Cobb, Kathy Hansen, Nikki Maucere, Nancy Binger, Angela Baker, Norma Sailnas, and Sandy Densmore — mixed and mingled through a number of pre-luncheon activities. First order of business: bidding in a silent auction that featured dozens of fabulous retail and restaurant experiences, gift baskets, art, jewelry, collectibles, and more. The stop-and-stare item up for grabs was an acoustic guitar signed by members of country group Rascal Flatts, valued at $5,000.
Groups of friends got their lipstick touched up by Macy's makeup artists and mugged in front of a photo wall.
At a booth called "Strokes for Stroke," sponsored by by Encompass Health, folks could try to paint a picture with their non-dominant hand to learn what it feels like to regain strength after a stroke. Free health screenings and a smoothie bar were provided by Texas Health Resources. And the Fort Worth Fire Department provided hands-only CPR training.
Patrons sat down to a lunch of wine-poached pear salad, Texas-spice rubbed chicken with boursin mashed potatoes, and a decadent red velvet tiramisu displayed artfully at each place.
Emcee Madison Sawyer of CBS-11 took the stage, and speakers and presentations began clicking along. Cami Thompson, executive director of the Fort Worth division, welcomed the packed ballroom and emphasized the day's mission.
“While nearly 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented, cardiovascular diseases continue to be a woman’s greatest health threat, claiming the lives of one in three women,” she said. “The Go Red for Women movement empowers our mothers, sisters, and friends to change this fact and be demanding when it comes to women’s heart health.”
Event chair Karen Thornton, flanked by daughters Kathryn and Alexandra, told the audience that attending last year's luncheon for the first time propelled her to change her lifestyle — including cutting back on her beloved Coca-Colas. "I was so inspired by the message that I heard that day, I wrote down three very simple words: save your life," she said. "Right then and there, I decided it was time to make a change, and it was the best decision that I ever made."
Cardiac arrest survivor and schoolteacher Alisha Byerly also shared her emotional story — after her heart stopped suddenly one morning in her classroom, Byerly’s students and colleagues stepped in to help revive her. Thanks to their quick action, she survived and was able to return to school seven days later.
In an unusually artistic moment at a health-focused event, house lights went down, and three dancers took center stage for a powerful dance presentation while a singer-keyboard player performed John Legend's song "If You're Out There." (Bummer that these talented performers' names weren't announced nor listed anywhere.)
After the emotional presentations and appeals, the room turned celebratory because guests had the opportunity to open their hearts and pocketbooks — with plenty of incentive to do so. Around the room, Fort Worth firefighters swapped patrons' pledge cards for blinking rings. Then waitstaff carrying trays of champagne served glasses to entire tables with 100 percent participation. One last incentive? Those same tables got entered into a drawing for gift cards to Woodhouse Day Spa.
After all the activity, there was still a keynote address to come. Social entrepreneur Michelle Poler, who has traveled the world encouraging people to live more fulfilled lives, empowered attendees to face their fears. She began her presentation by dancing on stage, and she ended by getting everyone moving and grooving on their feet.
Those spotted in the crowd included Danielle Murphree, Elena Davies, Tracy Babbitt, Larry Cannon, Kathryn Allen, Dr. Nina Asrani, Sheryl Morsco, Beth Manchaca, Mary Dominguez, and Irma Ramirez.
The joyful event came to a happy conclusion, raising a record-breaking $960,000 toward better heart health in greater Fort Worth.