Oh, what a night!

The stars align for GPFPE's spring benefit

The Grosse Pointe Foundation for Public Education broke records at its June 3 Be the Beacon benefit, held on the grounds of the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.

“All the stars aligned,” said Elizabeth Connors, a member of the Board of Directors. “Literally, the clouds parted. It was all quite magical.”

“We were very fortunate to have a near perfect night,” GPFPE President Bob Bury agreed, adding even the fish flies cooperated.

He credits the success of the evening not only to the beautiful weather, but the hard work of event co-chairs Beth Moran and Kris Vande Vusse and the generosity of the attendees, which included both longtime and new supporters.

Clockwise from upper left: GPFPE Bob Bury introduces guest speaker and author JT Mestdagh; centerpieces reflect the theme of the evening; attendees raised their paddles in support of the SEED initiative; spring benefit co-chairs Beth Moran and Kris Van deVusse thank committee members and supporters.

“People were committed to the cause and committed to why we were gathering,” Bury said. “While the food was great and the drinks were great and the congeniality and the fellowship were great, everyone knew they were there to support the Grosse Pointe Public schools and the paddle raise specifically for the SEED initiative.”

SEED stands for social-emotional encouragement and development and will fund grants specifically targeting social and emotional growth, healing and connections, and other mental health programs.

Students, teachers and parents may apply for grants year-round for programs that support the social and emotional health of students and staff in the district. Possible ideas from GPPSS school counselors, psychologists and social workers include professional development, “chill” spaces for staff wellness, restorative practices at all levels, extracurricular clubs to build connections and give purpose, mentoring programs, and the University of Michigan’s TRAILS — Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students — program, which is focused on bringing effective mental health care to all students.

“I was happy that people were willing to come under the tent and pay attention and learn about not only the great auction items — the boat rides and all the wonderful experiences we had — but also the reason that we were doing it: for our general grant cycles and for the SEED initiative,” Bury said, adding that after the past 18 months of the pandemic, “we didn’t have to spend much energy convincing people why this was a worthwhile opportunity to help children reacclimate to the educational process.”

On left, South therapy dog Tuka, dressed in his best Blue Devils and GPFPE attire, was counselor Beth Walsh-Sahutske’s “plus one” for the party. Therapy dogs across the district are on the wish list for school counselors, psychologists and social workers. On right, GPFPE board member Jason Tinsley raises his paddle to support SEED.

Buoyed by a $25,000 matching gift from the Boll and Mestdagh families, the paddle-raise began with a $10,000 pledge and by the time all paddles came down, the total amount raised was $94,000 — over double the amount raised at the last paddle-raising event in 2019, according to Bury.

This, combined with the $25,000 grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Funds at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, is “a significant start in helping to address this need,” Bury said. “That will also help us because we will continue to fundraise with other foundations and organizations and (these efforts) certainly will be validated by the success we’ve had so far and will help us going forward.”

Total proceeds from the event support the GPFPE’s biannual district-wide grants in addition to the SEED initiative.

People lend their support to GPFPE in a multitude of ways, Bury said, from major gifts to purchasing tickets to the benefit or giving a gift in honor of a favorite teacher or administrator.

“If you want to direct your support for direct impact like SEED, which is an abbreviated grant process, or you want to invest for the long term with the endowment, it all kind of works,” he said.

Clockwise from upper left: Mason Principal Roy Bishop and his wife, Latoya; Tammy and Joe Haney; Sarah Gough participates in the wine pull; guests Dave and Donna Martin (seated) and Pete Beauregard waged a friendly competition over an auction item.

Other highlights from the evening included lively bidding during the auction and remarks by guest speaker JT Mestdagh, author of “Untether: Inspiration for Living Free and Strong No Matter What the Challenge.”

Mestdagh, who grew up in Grosse Pointe Farms, overcame health and learning struggles and was instrumental in bringing the Tattum F.A.S.T. reading program to the Grosse Pointe Public School System. The GPFPE supported the initial funding of the F.A.S.T. program, which represented its first major campaign to support the school system, followed by supporting the implementation of the Leader in Me program, a school-wide character development curriculum, into the district’s elementary schools.

Bury is confident the next initiative, focused on mental health and selected under the guidance of the educators in the school system, is well on its way to being a successful campaign as well.

“We’ve set the bar high,” he said. “It’s great to see that even though we’ve been perhaps out of contact with each other largely over the past year or 18 months, the enthusiasm and the support is there and brings a sense of hope and optimism that the community and the school system is going to continue to regroup as needed and continue its tradition of excellence.”

The Grosse Pointe Foundation for Public Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing private funding to enhance academic and enrichment programs for the Grosse Pointe Public School System. Its purpose is to augment public funding to improve the quality of education for students in the Grosse Pointe Public School System.

For further information, visit gpfpe.org or contact Karen Lawrence at (313) 432-3058 or lawrenk@gpschools.org.

School Pointes is a publication of the Grosse Pointe Public School System. To submit story ideas or Pointes of Pride, email info@gpschools.org.