Gesher Disability Resources, which serves children and adults affected by a disability through inclusion assistance in the classroom, resource referral, residential support and social groups, celebrated its annual gala on Nov. 6, 2021.
The event was broadcast via Zoom with the help of Video West Studios. Over 300 people joined the celebration online, including three house parties that Zoomed in to help with live raffle drawings.
Amy Hummell, Gesher’s executive director, said the event was successful and went off without a hitch. “The enthusiasm in the studio could be felt by everyone at home,” she said.
The event featured an auction with 60 items, many with a starting bid of $25. Over $7,000 was raised from items that included a two-night stay at a True Ranch Hospitality resort (four are located in Arizona) and Phoenix Suns tickets.
Larger items were part of a live auction on Zoom. Participants used the chat box to bid. A five-day trip to Coronado sold for $3,700, and the Phoenix Suns’ jersey autographed by Devin Booker sold for $3,200.
Between live raffle drawings there were more chances to win prizes with Gesher Kahoot! trivia games. Viewers logged in on their phones to answer questions about sports and Gesher.
“All the questions had something to do with sports, as well as tying in Gesher being 36 years old,” Hummell said.
All told Gesher raised more than $135,000 through the auctions, raffle ticket sales, donations and sponsorships.
“As far as the fundraising is concerned, we’re a little bit up from last year, which is great,” Hummell said.
Gesher also used its gala as an opportunity to announce a new development in its organization: Gesher purchased Damon Brooks Associates, a speakers bureau consisting entirely of representatives who either have a disability or are directly affected by a disability.
“It was very exciting to announce that Gesher is growing, and that we have a new speakers bureau,” Hummell said. “It provides a national presence.”
Marc Goldman, the previous owner of Damon Brooks Associates, started the company to provide education about the disability community through people who have disabilities. He got the idea to start Damon Brooks Associates when he attended a comedy show.
“I was astounded by this fellow who delivered a very powerful message with a great deal of humor — all from his wheelchair,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘maybe we’re on to something.’”
Goldman believes Gesher will grow the company and sees the acquisition as a means of passing the torch to a new generation.
“I think it’s a new chapter,” he said. “Gesher will have more opportunities to spread their wings and add more spokes to their wheel for what they offer to the disability community.”
Geri Jewell, an actress known for her role in the sitcom “The Facts of Life,” is a speaker for Damon Brooks. She was introduced to Marc Goldman when he approached her after a comedy show and asked to book her in speaking gigs across the country.
“I was already doing disability training and motivational speaking, but he took me on and kept it going for over 30 years,” she said.
Jewell said that a speakers bureau, an organization made up of speakers that can be hired for events or training, is an extremely important resource to educate the public about the disability community.
“It brings awareness in changing attitudinal barriers [and] creating employment,” she said.
Jewell said that, under Gesher, the company will continue to expand and showcase the disability community in new ways. She hopes to continue working with Damon Brooks Associates and spread her message about accepting people.
“If you want to change someone’s heart and allow them to be more open to people, you have to open the heart and put the message in. What comedy does is it comes in and opens your heart then I come in with a message afterwards,” she said.
The acquisition of Damon Brooks Associates will allow Gesher to expand nationally.
Richard Jolosky, a supporter of Gesher, thinks that the organization is heading in the right direction by expanding their acquisitions. He supports Gesher because it is inclusive and provides “lots of activities that people with disabilities get left out [of].
“I think that’s probably the most important thing, to try and make life more inclusive for people who have disabilities,” he said.
Jolosky saw the effects of Gesher’s programming and decided to invest so they could continue their mission.
“The money we gave to charity was used for people we could see in the community,” he said.
Jolosky made a virtual appearance during the gala’s video presentation to speak about why he became involved with Gesher.
Hummell hopes that next year the event will be able to be held in person. Gesher’s primary concern, however, is to “keep everyone safe.”
“It was [overall] very successful,” Hummell said. JN