The Huntington Foundation celebrated its 26th anniversary at OHEKA Castle last Friday night, raising tens of thousands of dollars at the organization’s annual Reach for the Stars gala.
The evening drew a crowd of about 275, which packed the grand ballroom. There was an assorted of tasty food, music, dancing, raffle prizes and good friends spanning every segment of the school community.
Famed OHEKA Castle hosted HFEE's gala last Friday night. (Darin Reed photo.)
Formally known as the Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education, the group presented its coveted Spirit Award to retiring J. Taylor Finley Middle School Principal John F. Amato and local dentist and philanthropist Dr. Inna Gellerman, who has been so generous to the district’s programs and students.
The evening drew Huntington School Board members, district executives, building and department leaders, faculty and staff, alumni, parents and dozens of folks from the business community. Huntington Foundation President Alice Marie Rorke, gala chairperson Kimberley Steinberg and members of the organization’s board of directors all beamed throughout the night.
“The importance of the outpouring of support from the community cannot be overstated,” Mrs. Rorke said. “It is really the reason for our success 26 years and running. This year we welcomed over 270 people to OHEKA and were supported by well over 100 local businesses and organizations, in addition to the countless individual and family supporters that help make this happen every year. Our 2019 honorees, Principal John Amato and Dr. Inna Gellerman were beyond deserving of this recognition and our community honored them in spectacular fashion, a true ‘Huntington’ showing of support.”
Huntington Foundation Youth Board members were also at the event, helping it to run smoothly and interacting with guests. “This year’s youth board was deeply invested in the success of the event and we are so thankful for their involvement,” Mrs. Rorke said. “Thank you especially to the HFEE board and volunteers who work tirelessly throughout the year making our gala successful and to the many district faculty, administrators and families who support our mission to fund innovative education across our district schools. We couldn’t do this without everyone’s contributions.”
The crowd dined on dozens of butler passed appetizers and choices at fixed stations during the cocktail hour. The dinner duet entrée featured grilled sterling silver filet mignon with caramelized garlic mashed potatoes, tied haricots verts and baby carrots in port wine demi-glace and pan seared Chilean sea bass with steamed jasmine rice and citrus fondue.
The dessert hour was unforgettable, too. The items filled an entire large room at the castle. Some of the choices included white chocolate mousse with fresh raspberries, dark chocolate mousse with fresh strawberries, croquembouche, warm apple strudel station, assorted fruit sorbets and gelato accompanied by biscotti and madeleine, warm caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream, sweets and treats station, pastry chef’s selection of cakes and pies, cheesecake station, including American, cappuccino and chocolate.
“It was another great celebration of anything and everything Huntington,” Superintendent James W. Polansky said. “From the Finley ukulele club greeters to the outstanding raffles it was just a terrific evening. Thank you to the Huntington Foundation for its ongoing support of our students and programs. It is an organization that continues to make a genuine difference in so many regards. And our sincerest congratulations and thanks to honorees John Amato and Inna Gellerman for all they have done for Huntington children through the years.”
Mr. Amato and Dr. Gellerman were surrounded by family and friends. Both offered brief, well-received remarks. “It was a fantastic night and a memorable honor,” Mr. Amato said. “HFEE never disappoints. Thank you, HFEE.”
Dozens of auction items were displayed in beautiful fashion and a buzz prevailed around the room as the winners were revealed. A nine member live band kept the atmosphere lively and the dance floor filled until late into the evening.
Susannah Meinersnan claimed the grand prize of a two year lease (or $5,000 cash) of a Lexus UX 200 compliments of Atlantic Lexus of 110.
The Huntington Foundation has donated well over $1.2 million in goods and services to the district since its founding more than two decades ago. Proceeds from last week’s gala will go toward replenishing funds for two grant programs that encourage innovative programs and equipment that budget constraints prevent the district from supporting.
Planning has already commenced for the 27th annual bash next March. It will be hard to top the 2019 edition, but there’s nothing the Huntington Foundation cannot accomplish.
Huntington Foundation history
Parent Nancy Lundell came up with the original idea for an educational foundation in 1993. She pulled together a group of people, including fellow district parents Beverly Wayne and Elliot Levine, an attorney who performed the legal work necessary to formally create the Foundation’s corporate structure.
That small group of parents, along with several others, began meeting in the superintendent’s conference room in what was then the administrative wing at Woodhull School. It was from those meetings that the Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education emerged, becoming a non-profit organization in 1994, with formal bylaws, a logo and a board of directors.
In addition to Mrs. Lundell, Mrs. Wayne and Mr. Levine, the original directors included Diane Kirchner, Tom Webster, Susan Agolia, Paula Schneider and Susan Jouard. The first fundraiser was held on a Sunday afternoon at the old Coco’s Water Café on New York Avenue in Halesite. (The site is now occupied by Prime.)
The original volunteers devoted an enormous amount of time to the organization, helping to insure its long-term success.