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O’ Night Divine 2010

December 4, 2010

By Anna Jones

As diners enjoyed an elegant five-course meal at the Pujols Family Foundation’s Sixth Annual O’ Night Divine Christmas Celebration, Foundation Executive Director Todd Perry rattled off a dizzying array of numbers.

The numbers covered everything from players involved in the Foundation’s new Batey Baseball league in the Dominican Republic to the number of local events for those with Down syndrome, and so much more.

As he spoke those numbers to a record crowd of 600 people at the Khorassan Ballroom at the Chase Park Plaza on December 4, even more numbers were flying in the back of the room as the silent auction was nearing its close.

But as the evening progressed, all those numbers faded, replaced instead by story after story about the impact Albert and Deidre Pujols and the foundation have been able to have not only for the poor in the Dominican and those with Down syndrome, but also on the volunteers who have helped.

“The story here is not the numbers but about family,” Todd told the crowd. “And we’re gonna get real on you here.”

Among the stories that helped bring home what the Foundation does:

>>One of the Foundation’s primary goals in the Dominican has been to help empower the women to be able to provide for themselves and the children, as fathers often aren’t around.

When high school senior Kristen Perry, daughter of Pujols Family Foundation Executive Director Todd Perry, visited the Dominican, she realized how great the need was when she approached a woman with a baby and asked the baby’s age.

“She said, `I don’t know, I found her,” said Kristen, who learned it’s not uncommon for a child to be abandoned.

“I was overwhelmed by the chaos and bareness,” she said. “I looked around and there was no hospital, no police, no services. There’s nothing you can do.”

Kristen added that her visits have inspired her to serve the poor in the Dominican and Latin America for her career.

>>In January 2009, while the Foundation delivered beds to the many shantys in the bateys, a thought struck Albert: “Where are the dads? The men?”

Eighteen months later, with help from Compassion International and a very generous donation by Rawlings, Batey Baseball was well in the works. The purpose of the league: To teach the boys of the bateys not only about the game but about also about faith and responsibility.

Video captured how those in Batey Aleman had transformed a barren field into a beautiful baseball field, and in the background could be seen men and fathers coming out to watch their sons and take part. And when the league officially launched in November, Albert spoke not only to the players but also to those fathers of faith and responsibility.

Through the video, Compassion International’s Bernard Okeke spoke of the impact: “The kids feel so proud, so important. To them this is like being in heaven.” And Albert added: “God got their attention through baseball, because of baseball there’s hope.”

>>Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Foundation has added even more events for those with Down syndrome, including a Fall Festival and cheer/pom squad, in addition to such big events as the Autumn Prom and Home Run Derby and All-Star Game.

Video clips throughout the evening helped capture the joy and fun that everyone has at those events. But another video later in the evening captured the significance behind the smiles.

In the video, nine local families discussed Down syndrome and the social struggles that come with having a special need such as Down syndrome. In addition to the delays and disabilities comes the stigma, the looks and stares from others and discomfort of others. And often those with Down syndrome know they’re different and don’t want to be.

Those families then explained in the video how the foundation events have helped ease some of the stigma and even uneasiness others feel around those with DS and how huge and wonderful that has been.

Afterward, the nine families took to the stage, and an unknowing Albert and Deidre were introduced and welcomed by a standing ovation. Albert and Deidre spent more than a few moments hugging and speaking with the families on the stage before Deidre joked with a teary-eyed audience that “Kleenex should be a sponsor.”

Deidre went on to add about how scared she was when her daughter, Bella, was born. But both she and Albert added how they’ve come to realize Bella has provided them an opportunity and even a responsibility to share their faith with others.

From the laughter and smiles at the Autumn Prom to the beaming boys of Batey Baseball, so much of the evening was told through the photography of Gina Kelly. So it was very fitting that Gina was named the Pujols Family Foundation Partner of the Year for 2010.

But what many haven’t known is that of the years of work Gina has done for the foundation, from portraits at just about every big event in St. Louis to the trips to the Dominican, she has provided her photography skills and equipment without a fee.

“She’s purchased thousand [of dollars] in equipment and supplies and insists that is her gift to us and to the Lord,” Perry said.

Gina then explained some of her early struggles in life and how she finally turned it all over to God, including 40 percent of her photography company, and how much more she has received in return since making that commitment. “I’m so honored and blessed,” she said.

One by one, the insightful and humbling stories came. But in addition to the tears and awe, the evening included lots of fun too. Smiles abounded among guests as those who bought mystery baseballs, unwrapped them to see whose autograph they had received. And KSDK sports anchor Rene Knott had the adrenaline flowing as he conducted the live auction.

Among the evening’s auction items:

A day at the ballpark with St. Louis Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak, including a visit to the Cardinals dugout and batting practice and game seats in Mozeliak’s suite. Mozeliak even took the stage to help Rene and threw in a little baseball talk, adding that “we’re going to do all that we can to keep Albert here (as a Cardinal) a long time.” The auction item was such a hit that he offered two when two separate groups bid $3100 apiece at the live auction.

Former Cardinals broadcaster Wayne Hagin, now with the Mets, offered the New York Extravaganza, with a roundtrip for two with three nights at the Waldorf Astoria, tickets to a taping of Late Night with David Letterman and Mets tickets and VIP tour with Wayne that went for $3200.

Popular silent auction items included an Albert Pujols signed base, a print of Albert Pujols and Stan Musial signed by both and a tower of 12 baseballs signed by 300-game winners.

After the action concluded many of the local celebrities stayed and talked and posed for photos. Among those in attendance were Cardinals greats Lou Brock and wife Jackie, Al Hrabosky, Mike Matheny, John Mabry, Andy Benes, Kent Bottenfield, Kerry Robinson and two-sport athlete Brian Jordan. Other athletes included new Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, Cubs pitcher and Belleville native Randy Wells, Olympian Jackie Joyner Kersee, former St. Louis Ram Aeneas Williams, plus Hall of Fame musician Chuck Berry, Nashville recording artist Larry Stewart and singer Neal E. Boyd of America’s Got Talent.

In all, the evening helped raise about $230,000 to aid the Foundation’s programs, while also adding insight to the Pujols Family Foundation’s mission and work and paving the way for more to come.

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Date:
December 4, 2010
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