story and photos by Brittany Ransom
A sea of nearly 1,000 people gathered on Saturday (May 10) evening for the annual Cape Cod-inspired Heart Ball. Benefitting the American Heart Association, the event exuded beach elegance while raising funds and awareness to help battle the nation's number one killer, heart disease.
In 2013, the NWA Heart Ball raised more than $500,000 to support heart research and education. Organizers hoped to increase that amount this year, setting a goal of $575,000 for Saturday's event.
The "At the Heart of Cape Cod" Heart Ball kicked off at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers with a special VIP reception, and the opening of the Boardwalk. The exclusive strip featured several vendors, beach games and prizes, as well as signature mocktails and snacks.
Across the hall, guests were invited to browse tables filled with lavish silent auctions items. Razorback gear, home decor, wine gift sets, and a number of high-end packages were up for grabs. Cape Cod cocktails were also served, including a Cape Daiquiri, a whipped "Lemon Breeze" martini, and a "Devil's Cape of Manhattan" drink.
Guests dressed in their "Cape Cod Best" with men sporting summer suits and seersucker attire. Women donned elegant beach-worthy dresses and gowns, in sea shades of green, coral, teal and other colors.
At 7:30 p.m., the silent auction concluded and guests made their way to dinner. Tables were topped with blue vases and bouquets of white flowers. Swag bags, filled with a number of goodies, were also placed between seats for each pair to take home.
The menu began with a romaine and Kalamata olive salad, bread, and for the main course, a New York Steakhouse marinated boneless pork chop, served with brown rice and quinoa, and sautéed crookneck squash. Guests were also treated to a decadent dessert and coffee bar, which included everything from ice cream and fruit to gourmet coffees and teas.
Jake McBride of KIX 104 Radio and Angela Taylor, 40/29 News, served as the evening's emcees. Taylor shared the mission of the American Heart Association, explaining that heart disease is the leading cause of death among men, women and children. The pair then invited 2014 Heart Ball Chairs, Scott and Kim Neal, to the stage.
The Neals expressed their appreciation to the sponsors, supporters, staff, and volunteers who helped make the Heart Ball possible. The live auction then got underway, with Auctioneer Richard Clifton leading the charge. Several vacation packages and other items were sold to the highest bidder. Items included a trip for four to Pasadena, Calif., for the Rose Parade and Bowl, as well as a trip for ten to a luxury cabin in Utah.
Following the auction, the Neals returned to welcome Luke and Lindsay Briggs to share the story of their young daughter, Sloane who was born with Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome. The rare disorder affects the autonomic nervous system, which controls certain involuntary functions, such as breathing, heart rate, digestion, and temperature regulation.
Although long-time supporters of the organization prior to the birth of their daughter, the Briggs' commitment to the American Heart Association became more personal after Sloane benefitted from the implantation of a pacemaker and life saving technologies that have been discovered in part due to the efforts of the American Heart Association. After sharing their story, the Briggs asked audience members to "open their hearts" and give to the association using the pledge forms located on the tables.
Many of the volunteers stationed throughout the room to collect the donations were members of the 2014 "Sweetheart Class." Members include young ladies who volunteer their time to help educate their fellow high-schoolers and the community about heart disease. During the ceremony, each lady, escorted by her father or family member, was recognized on stage for her efforts.
"Together, these ladies have logged 1,425 volunteer hours for the American Heart Association," stated Taylor. "They have also raised more than $15,000 for life-saving research and education."
Two Sweethearts were presented with special awards for going above and beyond in their service. Mariel Van Horn was presented the "Sweetheart of the Year" Award for logging more than 144 hours for the organization. Maggie Donnell was honored with the "Make a Difference" Award.
Following the "open your hearts" appeal and Sweetheart class presentation, award winning-musician Edwin McCain took to the stage. McCain performed several signature songs including "I Could Not Ask For More" and "I'll Be," while guests flocked to the dance floor and sang along in front of the stage.
Started in 1949, the inaugural Heart Ball was held in New York with future President Dwight Eisenhower serving as the guest of honor. The tradition continues today as American Heart Association chapters throughout the country host Heart Balls each year, raising a collective $60 million annually.
For more information about the American Heart Association, visit the NWA chapter's website or call (479) 442-6540.