STARability Foundation’s 6th Annual STAR Gala: The Adventure Begins raised more than $2.8 million to support innovative, life-changing programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Collier County. Over 600 guests at the sold-out event enjoyed an inspirational evening at The Ritz-Carlton Naples, Tiburón celebrating the journey and stories of STARability’s STAR participants, their families and friends.
Inspired by the poem, “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley, which describes the experience of raising a child with a disability as an unexpected journey, the Gala featured a thematic twist that transported guests from the iconic landmarks of Italy to the colorful landscapes of Holland – all of which was revealed the night of the fundraiser.
In honor of STARability’s 40th anniversary, an inaugural visionary award recognizing remarkable individuals who embody the organization’s mission was presented to John and Carrie Cooney. The couple has demonstrated exceptional support, volunteerism, philanthropy, leadership and an unwavering commitment to STARability and building awareness for the rights and lifetime needs of people with disabilities in Collier County.
The evening’s journey was underscored by the heartfelt personal story of Haley C., an active participant in STARability’s Trailblazer Academy. “When I started the Trailblazer Academy in 2016, I was very nervous and scared, especially because I was picked on in high school and I wasn’t sure how people would treat me,” said Haley. “At STARability, I was greeted with kindness and support. I was welcomed by the caring staff and made many friends. I am even able to express myself through art, which is a very important part of my life. They were here for me to help me grow, mature and experience so many opportunities. STARability is an amazing program for everyone that goes there.”
A truly celebratory moment, dozens of donors were moved by Haley’s story and STARability’s transformational mission, pledging $1.2 million as part of the Fund A Need to support ongoing programming.
An exciting live auction featured once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as a 10-day safari in Tanzania, a private sunset cruise to the Bahamas aboard the superyacht Eden, a catered dinner party for 20 with live entertainment at an airline hangar and getaway packages to breathtaking destinations like Napa Valley, Cabos San Lucas and France. A unique collection of nearly 75 silent auction items raised over $150,000.
“We are truly grateful for the unwavering support from our guests, sponsors, STAR Gala committee and volunteers at this year’s STAR Gala,” said Karen Govern, CEO of STARability. “As we celebrate our accomplishments and look forward to an exciting future, their generosity will help us meet the growing needs in our community and serve even more STARs. Together, we are changing lives one inspiring chapter at a time.”
The 2024 STAR Gala, co-chaired by Laura Georgelos and Dena Rae Hancock, was supported by presenting sponsor Drs. Rafat and Zoreen Ansari and over 50 generous sponsors and underwriters. STARability would like to give special thanks to the host committee members for the event, including Carrie and John Cooney, Amy and John Quinn, Valerie and Jeff Gargiulo, Libby and Rick Germain, and Vicki Tracy.