Mike Wilson

Mike Wilson of Westby Associates, Inc., holding a matching check of $100,000, setting an ambitious tone for the evening fundraiser.

An aggressive goal, an elegant evening, and a generous community — the Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness hosted a successful fundraiser Saturday Feb. 2, at the Wallowa Lake Lodge.

The sold out event, themed Hearts for Health: a vision for transforming healthcare in Wallowa County, wined and dined 84 potential donors, offering free beer and wine donated by local establishments.

The evening’s co-emcees were Chantay Jett, the Center for Wellness’s executive director, and Mike Wilson of Westby Associates, Inc., a nonprofit fundraising company. Early in the evening, Wilson outlined the ambitious goal to raise over $200,000. Let it be known: they surpassed this goal, raising over $219,000 in local money for their cause.

While it was a Center for Wellness fundraiser, it really was a collaborative event with Winding Waters health care clinic. Board members from each nonprofit greeted guests warmly at the door.

Its purpose? A fundraising effort to meet a $6.8 million goal to build an integrated health care facility for Wallowa County. The building would help de-stigmatize mental health, and allow providers to communicate and collaborate with physical health providers to better treat the entire person.

In her early remarks, Jett said about the importance of an integrated mental and physical health building, “my dream is that you can come in and no one will know why you’re here.” Whether a patient comes in for a common cold or to address mild depression, he or she should come in with the same experience without the fear of judgement.

Immediately, it was apparent how much planning and care the organizations spent preparing for this event. Amy Bush and Tosca Rawls, as the public relations and development team for the Center for Wellness, are responsible for much of the auction’s success. Of all the enticing silent auction packages, only two were not donated by local people or businesses.

The vibe of the evening was warm and cheery. Participants greeted each other with smiles and words of good will. “It almost feels like friends and family gathering for a meal,” said Jett.

After the silent auction, the evening’s program began with a heartwarming interview with one of the Center for Wellness’s many beneficiaries. Tim Richardson, interviewed by Wilson, told an inspiring story of addiction, second chances, and community support.

Entangled with drugs and alcohol since age 8 but now 14 months sober, Richardson thanked the Center for Wellness, saying, “you guys saved my life.” He then spoke of his love for his daughter, who he named as his primary source of inspiration. “I want her to be proud of me.”

Richardson then credited Judge Tom Powers, who was in attendance, and his employer, Bronson Log Homes for providing a second chance, along with guidance and support on his path towards recovery. Bronson Log Homes also had representatives in attendance.

From there, the night launched into an active live auction while people ate their top-rate meals served by the Wallowa Lake Lodge staff. The first segment of the live auction led into the night’s second emotional interview.

Chris Borgerding, whose son Mathew Larson-Borgerding has received support services from the Wellness Center for over 15 years, came up to the microphone next. Tina Borgerding, Larson-Borgerding’s mom and Chris Borgerding’s wife was also in attendance. Speaking about his son’s experience, Borgerding said, “everybody loves Mathew.” In fact, “his senior year in high school, he was voted prom king.”

Emphasizing the important role of the Center for Wellness for his entire family, “they’ve really come through for us,” said Borgerding. But for the nonprofit’s services, the Borgerdings may have had to put their son in a residential home that could adequately provide the support he needed.

Next on the agenda was a paddle raise, where the group was challenged to match a $100,000 gift from last year. With Wilson on the mic, the gifts started off strong with a couple gifts at $10,000. Then Borgerding himself announced a gift of $40,000.

Several locals followed suit with gifts ranging from $5,000 on down to $1,000, and Dan DeBoie, who currently sits as chair of the Center for Wellness’s board of directors, stood in place of several members of his late wife’s family to offer a gift of $1,800. DeBoie’s late wife dedicated much of her life to mental health services. Wrapping up the honorary gift, Deboie said, “and in the spirit of good family competition, I’ll match the $1,800.”

While $219,000 may seem pale in comparison to the overall goal of $6.8 million, it goes a lot further than that. The Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness and Winding Waters have an ask in to the Oregon Legislature for $2.5 million, and will be in Salem March 4. Both Jett and Wilson stressed how important a strong show of community support will be in locking up that money from the state, and again as the two nonprofits seek funding from grant foundations.

Giving context to this element of the fundraising process, Wilson pointed out that in two years hosting this event the organization has raised over $575,000. With a total of 84 seats over that period, “it’s a remarkable show of support from the community,” said Wilson.

There seemed to be a collective appreciation for the overall generosity of the residents of Wallowa County. This was the second year hosting a “Hearts for Health” fundraiser for the integrated care building. It’s been so successful that the organizations plan to host it as an annual event, even after this particular goal is met.

In his closing remarks, Borgerding perhaps summed it up best, “in this county we take care of ourselves and we always have … Wallowa County, don’t ya love it?”

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