A Night to Remember: Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce Hosts Stars Over Dulles Gala to Benefit USO | Business
Laughter and style were out in full force Saturday as more than 300 guests attended the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards gala and benefit Saturday at the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport Hotel in Herndon.
In addition to recognizing local businesses, non-profits and citizens for their support of both the chamber and community, this year’s “Stars Over Dulles” gala also benefited the Metropolitan Washington branch of the United Service Organizations [USO]. “It was another outstanding event,” said Dulles Regional Chamber President Eileen Curtis. “Every year we raise the bar higher and this year was extraordinary.”
During a 15-minute paddle auction led by Va. Delegate Ken Plum, those present raised nearly $20,000 to support the USO—quadrupling last year’s fundraising efforts of $5,000. “What’s the price of a son, or a daughter, or a spouse being gone for nine months in Afghanistan? You can’t put a price on that.” said Justin Exner, vice president of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation, whose donation of $2,500 was the single largest of the evening. “They give their limbs, and in many cases their lives, for our freedom … the least we can do is support the USO, which not only helps the troops but their families,” Exner said.
The money will support the USO’s Emergency Food Assistance Program, which has seen a 45 percent increase in food pantry use over the last three years by struggling military families. USO representative Melanie Carson was “shocked and awed” by the generosity of the chamber and local businesses, which fully funded the program for two months. “As a non-profit, the USO is completely dependent on the generosity of the local community … and we could not exist without the support of events like the Dulles Chamber gala and the generosity of local companies and corporations that make our mission possible,” Carson said. “It’s a real blessing.”
In keeping with the evening’s theme, the Dulles Regional Chamber honored more than 24 American heroes from various military branches at the gala, many of whom attended as the chamber’s guests.
“As a community organization as well as a business organization, I feel it is incumbent on each of us to pay attention to the needs of those around us and being able to honor the heroism and sacrifice of these people in a public space was a memorable moment,” Curtis said.
The chamber also recognized its award winners, including: Small Business of the Year, AdviCoach, represented by Angela Inzerillo and James Lawson; Mid-size Business of the Year, GraceFul Care, represented by Pat Williams; and Large Business of the Year, CACI, represented by Dan Allen, president of North America operations.
Among area non-profit organizations, Devotion to Children, represented by Rosemary Lauer, received the Small Non-profit of the Year award, while Reston Interfaith, represented by Kerrie Wilson, was recognized as the Large Non-profit of the Year.
Bill Lauer of TETRA Partners received the Citizen of the Year award.
“We look for someone who excels in business and their relationships with the community, and who goes above and beyond to serve the chamber,” said Curtis of the general award criteria. “All of our nominees were winners and the people who won certainly demonstrate the qualities of business acumen and service that makes them extraordinary.”
Each of the six non-profit nominees received a spontaneous $500 donation from award announcer Justin Exner. “Giving back to the community in which I operate is a core value by which [my company] operates,” said Exner of his on-the-spot generosity. “Non-profits operate on very small budgets [and] they were all winners in my eyes.”
Business sponsorships made the evening possible, particularly that of Systems Furniture Gallery President Bob Kessler, who gave more than $10,000 to the event. “It exceeded my expectations,” he said of the experience, calling his donation “money well spent.” “The sponsorship was well worth it and I would highly recommend others to renew if they were a sponsor, and if they didn’t sponsor they should think about it for next year, because it’s great exposure,” he said.
Curtis believes the gala committee did much to contribute to the evening’s success. “Committee Chair Jenet Ahn, of Annalee’s Prom, Bridal, Special Occasions and Tuxedo, worked very hard to maximize promotion of the event,” Curtis said. “We’re very appreciative of the businesses that made this evening possible,” she said. “It was a wonderful night.”