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AIWC Cologne's Charity Gala for Water - raised € 5,777

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A French Woman, High Heels,

and a Black and White Charity Gala (for Water)

The American International Women’s Club of Cologne (AIWCC) raised a total of € 5,777 at our annual Charity Gala. Because 2011 marks our 50th Anniversary, the AIWCC Board decided this year’s gala should include a special fundraising event. Supporting the FAWCO Target Water Project seemed the logical focus for us—a way to contribute to a worthy international cause and, at the same time, raise the level of FAWCO awareness for our members. In previous years FAWCO had awarded several Development Grants and Education Awards to the AIWCC, and we thought it appropriate to reciprocate by underwriting one of the grants. By giving to FAWCO we were giving an anniversary gift to ourselves.

A little back-story: The AIWCC has been extremely lucky to have Marie Benedicte Luxem at the head of our diligent charity committee. Marie, a Parisian who has lived in Australia, Cyprus, Mauritius, and Germany, joined the committee in 2008. That first year, with LeeAnne Bray at the helm, the AIWCC Charity Gala raised €10,000 for the local Ronald McDonald House. Later in the fall of 2008, Marie took over the chair position. The 2009 Gala brought in € 8,000 to purchase a van for the Diakonie Michaelshoven (which travels to underserved neighborhoods and encourages women in need to seek out medical and psychological counseling). In 2010, Marie and her stellar committee raised €14,000, which paid for a year’s worth of clown therapy for terminally ill children at the Kinderhospiz Balthasar.

Our Charity Gala had traditionally supported a Cologne charity, so the 2011 challenge was to interest our members in a cause with a wider reach. We had searched for many years for a way to build enthusiasm for FAWCO and, because of our anniversary, this seemed like perfect timing.

Marie Benedicte Luxem is a soft spoken and extremely gracious woman, but when she sets her mind to it, she can coax money out of a rock—I’ve seen her do it! Because of her track record, our board was certain we could raise the $ 4500 (€ 3761) to sponsor a FAWCO Foundation Development Grant. We selected the “Right to Food and Water” DG because it seemed like a clear tie-in to the Target Water Project.

Through a series of FAWCO columns in our monthly bulletin, I began talking up the many issues connected to the lack of clean water around the world. I explained the DG and how FAWCO would select a winner. This wasn’t an easy task—the DG process is complicated! But our members began to jump on board.

Every chance she got, Julie Holter, our former president, mentioned the DG and how our gala proceeds would underwrite it. Note: Julie, who caught FAWCO Fever while attending the conference in Vilnius, has since left Cologne for Shanghai, but we were lucky to have had her as president during the run-up to our anniversary.  Julie is a classy speaker with a keen sense of humor and the best wardrobe in Cologne—she has always had a knack for getting club members to pay attention. (Shanghai, you’re lucky to have her there!)

Marie and Julie were a dream team. Julie got people to listen; Marie convinced them to toss money in our direction.

This year, because we wanted to make the 50th Anniversary Charity Gala stand out from past events, we opted for a sleeker approach. First, we mailed beautifully embossed invitations (designed by a member) along with our monthly bulletin. The invitation included the information about the FAWCO DG, along with a short paragraph about the importance of clean water and the FAWCO tie-in to the UN Millennium Goals. I pilfered most of this info directly from the FAWCO web site.

Next, the AIWCC Board decided to make the event a Black and White Gala—a concept we stole from Truman Capote’s 1966 Black and White Ball at the Plaza in New York City (we’re good at swiping ideas!)—and suggested our guests stick to those shades. Everyone looks good in a little black dress.

Marie asked the Excelsior Hotel Ernst to provide an international buffet—with various stations devoted to different cuisines—hoping that a buffet would encourage more mingling than a standard sit-down dinner. The Lord Mayor of Cologne, Jürgen Roters, attended, along with Janice Weiner, the United States General Consul for this region of Germany. Both of them gave rousing speeches at the start of the evening.

And now for the important part—raising the money. In the past, Marie’s gala fundraising techniques had included a silent auction. Every year our board members would scramble around town, begging club members and local merchants to donate a product or service to our auction. We bid on hot air balloon rides, optical products, hand crafted jewelry, baskets of American cookies, funky stemware, archery instruction, fancy mustard, singing lessons, pepper grinders, artwork in pale shades of green and blue—you name it, Marie auctioned it. I think one year I even bid on a rock or two. During the course of the dinner, guests were invited to sign up and silently bid on these items. The results were impressive.

This year, instead of auctioning dozens and dozens of small ticket items, Marie selected a handful of very exclusive products and services to be auctioned in a public session. With the assistance of various “connected” AIWCC members, Marie convinced these businesses to donate their products to our cause.

After dinner and some fine entertainment by American comedian Andy Valvur (get ‘em laughing, then ask for the money!), Julie Holter, wearing shoes so high my calves ached just looking at them, grabbed the gavel and conducted a spirited round of bidding. Among other things, she auctioned off an overnight stay in a castle with a Michelin three-star restaurant and cooking school, a trip to Paris, a journey to Berlin, a painting by one of our members, an outdoor adventure class, and a Porsche weekend. In between presenting the various items, Julie spoke passionately about FAWCO, the Target Water Project, and how our DG sponsorship would/could/should make a difference to the recipient. Every time she mentioned FAWCO, the bids got a little higher. At one point they were almost as high as her heels. Almost.

Meanwhile, Marie was in the back, counting the money. Not only did we raise enough to underwrite the “Right to Food and Water” DG (awarded to the Water for Mentawi project in Indonesia), our generous bidders helped the AIWCC contribute to two other water projects: € 1716 for the Integrated Tribal and Watershed Development Program in Ahmednagar, India; and €500 for 2aid, which will assist in the building of water tanks and wells in Uganda.

That’s a Target Water Project grand slam.

Marie Benedicte Luxem’s 2011 All Star Charity Gala Committee included Julie Holter (who is rumored to still be recovering from eight hours in those shoes), Susan Winstanley, Katrin Rueffer, Patti Sharpe, Malinda Hill, Dagmar Breitenbach, and Carol Windfuhr. As the AIWCC FAWCO Rep, I extend my heartfelt thanks to these industrious women for their support of FAWCO and the Target Water Project.  Because of them, the AIWCC continues to grow, both locally and on the world stage. Through a combination of big dreams, small steps, sleepless nights, and sweat—okay, Marie is French and extremely elegant, so maybe we should just say perspiration—the AIWCC is helping FAWCO reach its goal.

Robin Meloy Goldsby

AIWC Cologne

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