Gala to enlist stars
Crusader's Ball adds dance twist

LAWRENCEVILLE - After 35 years, one of Gwinnett County's foremost fundraising events is getting what organizers describe as an "extreme makeover."

After almost three-and-a-half decades, the annual Crusader's Ball Against Cancer was still going strong - last year's gala netted about $150,000 - but needed a new twist, with a couple of spins and turns, stepping into its 35th year.

The event was, according to Adrienne Rissley with the ACS, the first formal gala to be held in Gwinnett County.

"Now everybody's doing a ball and that form of fundraiser," she said, "and nothing wrong with that, but we want to be unique, especially given the current economy."

Borrowing on the popularity of "Dancing with the Stars," the reality television show that pairs celebrities with professional dance partners in a competition for bragging rights, the American Cancer Society has planned its own dance-off featuring local stars.

"We wanted something that was trendsetting, repeatable and something to engage a whole new audience in Gwinnett and metro Atlanta," said event co-chair Stephanie Joedecke. "It was something that we really wanted to tie into, this traditional gala, with something very untraditional and new."

Kelly Greer, publisher of Gwinnett Magazine, Caryn McGarity, executive director of the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, colon cancer survivor Mark Waters and 11Alive News Meteorologist Chesley McNeil are the first four stars who will compete in what the ACS plans to make an ongoing theme for the Crusader's Ball.

"After 35 years of success, it's hard to imagine how you could do much better," Joedecke said. "(But) we've seen our ticket sales go up this year already and we're still three weeks from this event, so we have high hopes to get 500 people at this black-tie event."

This year's fundraiser will be held Nov. 14 in the Gwinnett Center Grand Ballroom. But before the competition gets under way, Gwinnett residents can support their favorite stars online by making contributions to the ACS online through each of their donation pages.

Randy Redner, area executive director for the ACS in Gwinnett, said given the recession, the organization hopes to fare as well through this year's gala as last.

"If it got a lot bigger," he said, "that would be OK with us."

SideBar: If you go

· What: The 35th annual Crusader's Ball Against Cancer "Dance with the Stars"

· When: 7 p.m. Nov. 14

· Where: Gwinnett Center Grand Ballroom, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth

· Cost: $125 per ticket, which includes dinner

· For more information: Call 770-814-0123 or visit www.crusadersball.org