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Animal Lovers Dine, Dance for Dogs, Cats

Feb. 10, 2008 — Ball gowns, tuxedos and a sea of white satin chairs with thick red sashes and bows festooned the Mark C. Marin Center’s gymnasium at Antilles School Saturday night for the 31st annual Valentine Ball benefiting the Humane Society of St. Thomas. More than 500 people attended the ball, whose annual proceeds go to fill the society's coffers as it works to eliminate animal cruelty, abuse and overpopulation.
“I love this event,” said Amanda Symkens, who along with her husband, Sandy, attend the Humane Society’s ball every year. “The food is wonderful tonight, and the gym is just beautiful! It’s also one of the most worthwhile causes we have on this island.”
The Humane Society cares for nearly 3,000 animals each year. The ball, whose tickets cost $150 each, is critical to the organization’s survival, according to Joseph Aubain, president of the Humane Society’s board of directors.
“We get a contract from the government to pick up strays, and this year for 2007 it was $100,000,” said Aubain. “That’s about $250,000 short of what it should be. This is why this (event) is so critical.”
While it’s too early to know the bottom line from this year’s Valentine Ball, Aubain said he’s hoping to top last year’s earnings of $85,000.
Event organizers tried something new this year by holding the ball at the Antilles gym, rather than at a resort. The Humane Society’s key philanthropist, Randy Knight, led the charge believing that the gym, whose construction he helped fund through a $1 million donation, could support such an event, and elegantly.
“I’m ecstatic!” said Knight about the selection of the venue and the drama that greeted ball-goers as they entered the gym. It was a cavernous expanse of white drapery, white tablecloths and white chair covers, with red accents and matching floral centerpieces. Additionally, music by Milo's Kings offered a big band and jazz flavor to the evening, whose theme was “Prom Night.”
“It’s beyond my wildest expectations,” said Knight. “I’ve been a resident of the Virgin Islands for 34 years and it’s the most fun I’ve seen people have at an event like this in all my time here.
“I’ve been known to take chances,” he continued, “and we wanted to take a chance on something different. It just worked perfectly, and Antilles School couldn’t have been more helpful. It’s a perfect space if you have the vision.”
The chairwoman of the event, Claudia LaBorde, who has been at the helm of many a Humane Society ball in the past, was equally pleased. “It’s just so elegant tonight,” she said, adding that it took them five days to decorate the gym. But, said LaBorde, the savings was worth it. “And the folks at Antilles have been fantastic. All our needs accommodated.”
Some 217 local businesses supported the fundraiser, which featured a silent auction.
Knight opened the evening with a welcome speech that referenced a prediction he made at last year’s ball regarding the Animal Care Campus, the Humane Society’s soon-to-be new home.
“Last year, right around this time, I had stated that we would be operating out of our new facility by the time this event was held,” Knight told the crowd. “Well, breaking news — due to circumstances beyond our control, we’re shooting for our Animal Care Campus dedication in May.”
The new facility is located off Weymouth Rhymer Highway, opposite the Market Square East shopping complex. The site plan lists six buildings on 4.7 acres.
“The entire project will come in at about $6.5 million,” Knight told the audience, saying there was another $4.5 yet to be raised. “It’s going to take all of our efforts to raise the money. But I’m confident that our contributors will be stimulated by the positive impact that our organization will have on our community.”
Proceeds from the Valentine Ball go into the Humane Society’s operating budget. Anyone interested in supporting the capital campaign for the Animal Care Campus can visit the organization's website
to learn more about donor opportunities.
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