Despite COVID, Our Fall Gala Gives Us Reason to Celebrate

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This is the ninth installment in an ongoing series about the unique history of Good Will-Hinckley. To read the previous installments, click on one of the following links: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V; Part VI. Part VII. Part VIII.

In 1992, Ann Marden, the wife of a longtime Good Will-Hinckley board member, was inspired by an idea: to create an event that would bring people together and tell the story of Good Will—while celebrating the holiday season.

In the fall of 1993, the Festival of Trees was born. Each year, GWH staff and students, together with local volunteers, would spend months preparing for the festival: stringing lights and ornaments on trees around campus and turning Prescott Hall into a haven of yuletide cheer. What began as a small local occasion quickly became one of the most beloved holiday events in Central Maine, with nightly music, delicious food and an infectious community spirit.

Good Will-Hinckley, Festival of Trees
Festival of Trees

Over the years, as more towns started hosting similar events, the Festival of Trees lost a bit of its luster. By 2018, it was time for a change—something new and exciting that could bring people to campus and generate buzz, but without the months of hands-on preparation.

And that’s how the Good Will-Hinckley Fall Gala came to be. Hosted at the Bishop Auditorium, our first gala (held in 2018) drew more than 100 people and generated $39,384 for our Campus Living program, which provides room and board for students who need a place to stay during the school week. Last year, the event raised an addition $52,631.

For us, the Fall Gala captured so much of what makes our campus such a special place: the community, the camaraderie, the vision and mission that George Walter Hinckley created—and that GWH has followed for more than 130 years. It was more than a celebration; it was a testament to what our organization is all about.

And then COVID happened. Like everyone, we’ve had to reimagine how we do things, and this year’s gala is no exception. Instead of gathering at the Bishop Auditorium, we’ll be hosting a virtual gala through Facebook Live on Saturday, October 17, beginning at 6 p.m.

Fall Gala Virtual: Good Will-Hinckley

We know it won’t be the same. There’s something about that building, the warmth and sense of togetherness it creates, that can’t be replaced. But as we’ve done so often these past seven months, we’ve managed to turn obstacles into opportunities.

For the first time, we’re making our Fall Gala free and open to all. By giving people a window into Good Will-Hinckley, we hope to create greater public engagement—and reach families we might not have otherwise. Especially those with children who could benefit from our services. 

As in years past, we’ll be conducting a live auction, only this time we’ll be doing it through the Charity Auctions website. While we won’t be taking bids until October 11, people can preview all of our auction items (including the boat safety kit below!) by clicking here. We’re even keeping the bidding open until October 18—the day after the gala.

Boat Safety Kit: Good Will-Hinckley
A boat safety kit, one of our many 2020 auction items!

We’re also rolling out a text-to-give option, where people can pledge a donation to Good Will-Hinckley (text HOPE to 800-784-0341). As with the auction, all proceeds will go to our Campus Living program.

But while the Fall Gala is critical to our fundraising efforts, it’s also about honoring the people who’ve made—and continue to make—invaluable contributions to our organization.

As this year’s Honorary Chair, we chose former student Jeremy Greene, who’s gone on to have incredible success in the music industry. In fact, he just got signed by country superstars Rascal Flatts to record his next album in California. Our former CEO, Glenn Cummings, will be giving out our Helping Hands Award, which recognizes individuals who’ve shown integrity, vision, leadership and compassion for our mission (we actually named the award in honor of Glenn, who continues to be a champion for GWH).

For our Then and Now segment—something we added last year—we’ve asked Jeanie Davis, a 1952 graduate, to talk about what it was like to live on campus back then. We’ve also arranged to take a virtual tour of our student-living cottages, led by a group of current students.

Despite the circumstances, and the challenges they’ve presented, we’re beyond excited for this year’s celebration. But we couldn’t have done it alone.

To our Family Sponsor, Sappi, who has stepped up once again with an incredibly generous donation; to Trueline, a Portland marketing agency that’s helped create much of our Gala-related content (including videos); to the many alumni and community members whose support has been indispensable; and to Ann Marden, whose efforts in creating the Festival of Trees laid the foundation for a new tradition: Thank you for keeping the Good Will legacy going.

Good Will-Hinckley auction sponsors

In the end, we’re all looking forward to getting back to normal—in the classroom, on campus and with our Fall Gala. In the meantime, we can all rest a little easier knowing that the creativity and resiliency that have defined this organization for more than a century are stronger than they’ve ever been.

No matter the challenge, our charge—Educating Youth. Changing Lives—is powerful enough to overcome it. And so too are the many people who continue to make that mission possible.