Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff
The invitation may have read 7 p.m., but the real celebration Friday evening at the fourth annual Mayors’ Gala got started about an hour earlier.
At a pre-gala ceremony in a third-floor room at the University of Waterloo Stratford campus – the first-time venue for the black-tie reception in support of the Stratford and Perth County Community Foundation – 17 community-based projects from across Perth County were awarded grants, representing $60,000 in endowed funds.
Among the largest grant recipients in Stratford were the Rotary Club of Festival City Stratford Foundation ($5,000 for the Stratford splash pad), local technology group Avonova ($3,500 to help equip low-income households with computers and the Internet), and the Local Community Food Centre ($3,000 for an afterschool nutrition program).
A sold-out crowd of 350 people – fund holders, grant recipients, sponsors and general supporters – were on hand to celebrate the work of the foundation, which currently cares for $1.4 million in assets, at what’s been dubbed Stratford’s most fabulous cocktail party.
And this year’s gala certainly lived up to the reputation, not only with its new venue, but with samplers from the Stratford Chefs School and musical interludes from the likes of the Stratford Symphony Orchestra, Stratford Pipes and Drums and the St. Marys Children’s Choir and Festival Youth Singers.
Proceeds from the night, which also included a silent auction, help support the foundation’s immediate programming needs and outreach initiatives.
Foundation executive director Heidi Spannbauer said organizers were thrilled to see so many people attend the gala from throughout Perth County, noting the foundation continues to look at ways of strengthening its footing in the smaller, rural communities outside of Stratford.
She added it is “critically important” to the foundation’s future that it work to identify the specific needs in each of the communities it serves.
On that note, she said the foundation will be creating new community-specific funds that people will be able to donate towards with the knowledge the money will be spent on what the foundation determines to be the most pressing issue in that community.
“So if you donate money in St. Marys, the money will be spent in St. Marys,” said Spannbauer.
The foundation has other funds to look forward to in the months ahead as well.
Two new scholarships that were developed this past year – one in honour of late Festival stalwart Peter Donaldson and another for the Hyde family – are expected to be awarded this year to students who are pursuing an education in either theatre or the construction field.
Combined, the foundation’s five scholarships total $4,500.
Some of the other local and area grant recipients celebrated at the gala included the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario – Stratford-Perth branch ($800 for website development), the Housing of Blessing ($2,500 for sports and recreation registration and equipment fees supplement), Perth County Historical Foundation ($1,200 for the Fryfogel Arboretum), Stratford-Perth YMCA ($1,200 for youth workshops) and Victim Services of Perth County ($2,200 for a computer system).