About 600 guests came to revel in Rio for the Heartland Family Service “Carnival of Love” Gala at the Embassy Suites on Saturday, Feb. 11, helping to raise a record $315,023 to serve the most vulnerable children and families in our community. The new record shattered not only this year’s goal of $285,000 but also the previous record of $264,000 set last year.

Master of Ceremonies Bob Kropp kicked off the program by introducing a video about former Heartland Family Service client Michelle, who was able to find the road to success for her family with help from a low-interest car loan through the Ways to Work program. Friends Guild President Melissa Steffes took the stage next to recognize Gala chairs Julie Gibson-Beier and JoAnn Gould and honorary chairs Joe and Kacey Lempka. Joe served on the Board of Directors from 2006-2009, and Kacey has been on the Friends Guild for over a decade.

Guests then heard from Heartland Family Service President and CEO John Jeanetta before playing a rowdy Heads or Tails game to set the mood for the live auction. The top-selling item during the live auction was Pick Your Paradise, in which the winners got to choose between a one-week stay in a vacation home in exotic Bali, a six-day South African photo safari or seven days at a Tuscany villa in the town of Cortona, Italy. The package, which included $500 toward travel expenses, was sold to 13 lucky couples for $3,000 each. A beautiful modern art canvas painted by the seniors and Youth Links teens at the Heartland Family Service Generations Center went for $600.

The evening ended with Hope for Families, during which guests simply raise their bid cards to donate, and the story of Flora Shukis, an 89-year-old senior who has attended the Heartland Family Service Generations Center for 10 years. Following the death of her husband of nearly 63 years, Flora’s children told her she never smiled anymore and a doctor said she needed to find a place to go dancing. Today, Flora not only attends the Generations Center every week day for cards, camaraderie, laughs and lunch, but also brings her entire family to the annual Senior Prom to dance.

“Everyone at the senior center, we’re like a bunch of sisters and brothers no matter what age,” Flora said. “I love them all.” By the end of Hope for Families, the new record was set. As Heartland Family Service’s largest fundraiser of the year, the “Carnival of Love” Gala helps create the path to a better tomorrow for the over 30,000 individuals the agency serves each year from more than 15 locations in eastern Nebraska and southwest Iowa. Among the more than 50 programs that will receive financial support from the “Carnival of Love” are the Safe Haven domestic violence shelter, Youth Links crisis stabilization center for teens in the juvenile justice system and the Ready in 5 school readiness program for refugee children and their families.