Hi-Hope Gala: Annual event nixed
Nonprofit hopes to celebrate next year

LAWRENCEVILLE - An event that has taken place every year for the past 29 years won't celebrate its 30th year in 2009.

The board of directors for Hi-Hope Service Center, which provides services to adults with developmental disabilities, voted at a meeting Jan. 20 to cancel the annual Hi-Hope Gala, citing the economic recession for its decision.

"Hi-Hope is just like all of the other nonprofits now," Executive Director Alice Cunningham said. "We're negatively impacted by the current economic situation.

"This was a very difficult decision for the board," she added, noting many of Hi-Hope's donors are home builders, developers, businesses related to the building industry and financial institutions.

"That makes it even more difficult," she said. "Our gala nets probably 50 percent of what we count on for donations, so its going to put a lot of pressure on our board and on me to go out and try to find as much of those funds as possible from the community directly."

Hi-Hope's donations are at about half the amount raised this time last year.

"All of the funds that we raise at our events have historically subsidized our operating expenses," Cunningham said. "This allows Hi-Hope to directly meet the needs of our adults with developmental disabilities, especially, and this is real key, as 48 percent of our population is over the age of 40."

Cunningham said the costs associated with supporting Hi-Hope's aging clients are much higher than the reimbursement rates from Medicaid and the state of Georgia.

"That's why our donations are so important," she said.

Brenda Pruitt, chair of Hi-Hope's fundraising committee, said the price tag for the annual ball, held at the Gwinnett Center, averages about $60,000, which goes toward renting the facility and providing food and entertainment, and the fundraiser has always netted more than $100,000. Three years ago, that figure was up to $187,000.

"It's a very expensive ball to put on and it's always elaborate, always very, very nice," Pruitt said, "but with these economic times it's very difficult to ask people who are already stressed out trying to make payroll to contribute."

Hi-Hope plans to seek donations through smaller fundraising efforts and celebrate the 30th year of its gala next year, the same time it will celebrate 50 years of offering services in Gwinnett County.

Anyone interested in making a donation to assist Hi-Hope Service Center can visit the organization's Web site at www.hihopecenter.org. Donation forms are available there, as well as a wish list.

Cunningham said church or social groups, and even families, could also adopt one of Hi-Hope's five group homes, providing supplies, decorating for the holidays, helping to celebrate residents' birthdays and more. About four residents live in each home and Hi-Hope plans to open a sixth group home in the future.

Cunningham is available to speak to organizations and groups about the services Hi-Hope provides and hopes to foster joint volunteer efforts with other organizations that raise awareness of those services.

"There's always ways that we can volunteer with companies as well as companies volunteering with us," she said.

Cunningham can be contacted directly by calling 770-963-8694, ext. 11 or by e-mailing alice@hihopecenter.org.

SideBar: If You Donate

Donation forms for Hi-Hope Service Center are available online at www.hihopecenter.org. Those interested in making donations can also call the center at 770-963-8694.