February 2010

Straight from the Heart: Valentine Dinner Dance Benefits CRF

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

On Saturday, February 13, at 6:30 p.m., hundreds of local residents, former residents and their guests will gather at the Crowne Plaza Resort to have a ball. It’s the Children’s Relief Fund’s 14th annual Valentine dinner dance and auction to raise money for area children who suffer from various physical, mental and developmental disabilities.

But don’t think this is a maudlin occasion. According to CRF founder, Rose Fotia, the formal (black-tie optional) event is a gala celebration and a grand reunion for supporters. “We do the whole Valentine experience, from roses to chocolates,” she said. Activities include a gourmet surf and turf dinner (including hors d’oeuvres and wine) as well as live and silent auctions, featuring exotic trips, fun parties, restaurant certificates, golf outings, art and a variety of other goods and services from businesses throughout the community. And then there’s the hot dance band…

This year’s entertainment will be provided by Intensity, a high-energy, seven-piece band that delivers a power-packed, fully choreographed show guaranteed to keep the dance floor packed. Intensity’s extensive song list includes hits from every musical era. The band will cruise through the best of R&B, Motown, funk, disco, dance and beach music.

“This has evolved into a really wonderful evening,” said Fotia, describing the energy and diversity of the crowd, united in the spirit of love.

A Love Story

“It started because I had a little boy [Gregory] who was disabled,” said Fotia. He had a very rare seizure disorder called West Syndrome which left him unable to do anything for himself, she explained. He was tube fed, wheelchair bound. “We took him all over the country to various doctors. Nobody could tell us why.”

Fotia and her husband, Frank, were fortunate in that they could afford to provide for their son, she said, but they met many families who couldn’t. And in 1989, there were no programs for these children. The Fotias decided they were either going to have to move or do something about it. They chose to stay and create a non-profit organization called the Children’s Relief Fund.

Gregory passed away in 2000, just shy of his 12th birthday. “What’s so cool is that his legacy lives on through this event [the Valentine dinner dance]. It’s a huge celebration of his life,” said Fotia. “People come back every year—some who have disabled children and some who don’t—people who have been touched by our family or others who have children with disabilities and just want to be a part of this.”

Fotia says it is out of her pain that her life purpose has been revealed. “Gregory wasn’t expected to live beyond age five. When he lived to be almost 12, that was a little miracle in itself,” she said. “When he died, continuing [with CRF] was a natural. It was never just about Gregory. It was about helping others. The way I look at it, it’s a way to keep his work alive. It’s his memory. That’s what keeps me going. It’s almost like he’s here cheering me on.”

Her faith has helped her put it in perspective, said Fotia. “When I sit back and look at the whole story, I know it was all planned out. God knows what he’s doing. Now that I look back, I think what a wonderful life this child had. If you could measure your life by how much you were loved… he was the most loved person.”

According to Fotia, her oldest son, Frank, was particularly close to his brother, taking on many care-giving responsibilities and including Gregory in his circle of friends. Today, as adults, Frank and many of his friends return to Hilton Head Island to remember Gregory and participate in the event honoring his life.

“Gregory’s life was short but very meaningful,” said Fotia. He was this beautiful little boy. You couldn’t be in the room and not feel the love that this child had.”

The Greater Gift

While nobody ever wants anything to be wrong with their child, Fotia says that her personal tragedy has proved to be a blessing in many ways. “When you spend time with these children, you take away something that you can’t take away from anyone else. Their purity—their genuine love—is just so precious. It’s amazing. They don’t have any ulterior motives. It’s unconditional. They are sick, yet despite the struggle, they go about their lives every day with a smile on their face, and they’re happy. Just watching these kids makes me know that this didn’t all happen for naught.”

Although Fotia is the founder of CRF and continues to work tirelessly toward the cause, she is quick to credit her board of directors and all of her supporters. “It’s a huge group of people who work with this who are all so committed to helping these wonderful kids,” she said.

The annual Valentine dinner dance is Children’s Relief Fund’s only major fundraiser. The organization is strictly local, contributing approximately $200, 000 per year to the community. “We serve children in the Hilton Head Island and Bluffton area, so all the money we raise stays here,” said Fotia. “We’re all volunteers. Nobody makes any money. It all goes to the kids. It’s tangible—something that you can see. Look at how much better their lives are because of this fundraiser. This is what makes it all happen.”

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If You Go
What: 14th Annual Valentine dinner dance
When: February 13, 2010, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Crowne Plaza Resort
Why: To support the Children’s Relief Fund in their efforts to aid families of children with disabilities
Cost: $125 per person, includes dinner, wine and a full evening of entertainment.

For ticket information, call Rose Fotia at (843) 681-7668.

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About Children’s Relief Fund

Children’s Relief Fund (CRF) is a non-profit organization founded in 1991 by Rose and Frank Fotia. The group consists of volunteers who raise money to help fund therapy, equipment, summer programs and other activities for disabled children in the Hilton Head Island and Bluffton area. Working on a volunteer basis only, board members include a local pediatrician, speech and language pathologist, physical therapist assistant, social worker, local business people and parents.

Children’s Relief Fund has been the source of funding all or in part to our local Special Olympics, four summer camps, cheerleading programs, and a variety of social activities and educational opportunities.

For more information regarding programs and available benefits, to volunteer or make a donation, visit www.thechildrensrelieffund.org or call Rose Fotia at (843) 681-7668.

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