NYC Mission Society Champions for Children Gala

Co-chairs Jean Shafiroff & Katrina Peebles
All photos Laurel Marcus
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Last night I attended the NYC Mission Society’s annual Champions for Children Gala, an organization with an over 200 year history of improving outcomes and serving over 12,000 people annually with various programs for children, youth and families in our city’s most underserved communities.

The dinner

The gala, held at the Mandarin Oriental, was co-chaired by Jean Shafiroff and Katrina Peebles with awards presented to longtime supporter Dina Merrill Hartley, past chairman of the board of directors Lloyd W. Brown, II; Founder, Chairman and CEO of The Peebles Corporation, Don Peebles; and legendary actress Diahann Carroll.

Bill Ritter

Bill Ritter of ABC-TV was once again MC while entertainment was provided by Alex Donner & His Orchestra and by Kathy Sledge, the Legendary Voice of Sister Sledge. President Elsie McCabe Thompson even assembled several pols including former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and former NYC mayor David Dinkins.

Stanley Rumbough, Sharon Bush & Joanna Fisher

Other notable attendees included actress Cicely Tyson (looking amazing at 92!), Artist Peter Maxx , PR Person Matt Rich (who claims that Trump may be getting a rescue dog), Michele Herbert (“Mrs. Pantone”), Avenue Magazine’s Randi Schatz, Gayle King, Lee Fryz,

Lee Fryd, Dustin Lujan & Dr. Penny Grant

Dr, Penny Grant, Dawn Marie Grannum, Stanley Rumbough and Cole Rumbough (son and grandson of Dina Merrill), Sharon Bush, Joanna Fisher, Lucia Hwong Gordon, B. Michael, Victor DE Souza and Dustin Lujan.

Gregory Speck, Margo Langenberg & Larry Kaiser

As was mentioned by several of the speakers during dinner, (beet salad, short ribs with mashed potatoes, & chocolate mousse cake for dessert) the event’s attendance had increased by 100 people since last year, which may explain the somewhat claustrophobic cocktail hour. When the step-and-repeat is situated in a narrow corridor blocking the path to the restrooms, well, let’s just say it’s not ideal real estate.

Jean Shafiroff

As far as fashion, there were some notable looks with many women embracing color including Queen Bee Jean looking stunning in a custom designed B. Michael red and white strapless gown which she accessorized with long white gloves.

Michele Herbert

Speaking of Ms. Shafiroff, nearly everyone in attendance was able to connect themselves in less than six degrees of separation to this petite wonder woman — the shorthand lingo “Are you a F.O.J.? (friend of Jean)” serving as introduction.

Lucia Hwong Gordon

As we were gonged into the dining room, Bill Ritter requested that we get on with the program since he had a newscast to do. He praised the NYC Mission Society as being instrumental in helping youth “accomplish things they might not be able to accomplish without this organization,” adding that “we need children to be productive to support us in our old age.” Ritter alluded to the fact that he had recently graduated from college himself and is trying to start a back to school movement for adults.

Elsie McCabe Thompson spoke of the Griot music program whose students played a lively number for us.  “Most of these students had never held an instrument before let alone played it” she said. About the success of the Learn to Work program she said that 89% of its students finish high school versus 41% citywide.

Cicely Tyson, B Michael & Marc Anthony

Dina Merrill Hartley’s husband Ted Hartley accepted her Director Emerita Award saying that his wife who served on the board for over 60 years, is in Palm Beach dealing with her own issues (she’s 93). Fun fact: the actress who is the daughter of E.F. Hutton and Marjorie Merriwether Post, grew up at Mar-a-Lago, now known as “the winter White House.” (I’ve actually had dinner at her special table there!)

Victor dE Souza

Hartley told the story of Dina’s first acting job in which she told her dad she was paid $25. Her father’s response: “What damn fool would pay you $25?” Hartley added that his wife’s wish for the children of the Mission Society was to have a great life and to be independent.

Gayle King, Don Peebles & Katrina Peebles

Real Estate Developer Don Peebles continued the tradition of thanking his spouse and family which each honoree had done, making it sound like the Oscars. He told a joke which I will not attempt to spoil here but it works for both real estate developers and lawyers — my husband who is a real estate tax attorney had previously told it to me and I’m afraid I spoiled the punch line for my table. He added that the attendees in the room were very lucky — “there but for the grace of God go I. Every child deserves a chance to compete.”

President NYC Mission Society Elsie McCabe Thompson & Mayor David Dinkins

Mayor Dinkins introduced Lifetime Achievement Award winner Diahann Carroll listing her many credits including being the first black actress to have her own TV series (“Julia”).  Ms. Carroll thanked everyone after being helped to the podium with some foot issues. “It is incredible that you have invited me.  You’ve invited me before and I appreciated it but now with a sneaker on one foot and a regular shoe on the other, I really appreciate it!”

Diahann Carroll

She spoke of her supportive parents who loved her “unquestionably. They had no education whatsoever but insisted that I have one.”  She spoke of her mother’s generosity to relatives that had no place to live prompting her father to say “Mabel, this ain’t no rent house here.” Mom Mabel made sure that Diahann got her start at the Mission school.”Watching my parents was the greatest thing in my life and I’ve been married four times,” she said. She spoke of her current home in Los Angeles and the dearth of “integrated events like this.”

R. Couri Hay, unknown, Mary Max & Peter Max

“There’s Malibu and Beverly Hills and those other people who live over there. They try but they don’t know how to do it,” she added. When someone suggested she move back to NYC , she remarked that she would be 82 this summer and doctor’s orders were that she rest.

Ms. Carroll continued by saying that she was overwhelmed by the young people coming up to her. “They’re not even old enough to know Dominique Deveraux (her “Dynasty” character). Thank you for giving me back a center because you can certainly lose it in beautiful Beverly Hills, lost in the land of Lala. I will not forget this, you don’t know what it means to me.”  “You know people ask me, did anything difficult happen when you started your career? No, I just walked in the door and they said ‘hello’ and ‘put some lighter makeup on her’,” she joked.

Sister Sledge

The evening concluded with some dance music from the Alex Donner orchestra and Kathy Sledge of the Sledge sisters. After a “Greatest Dancer” dance-off, an extra-long rendition of “We Are Family” not only packed the dance floor but also truly drove home the theme of the evening.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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