The vibe at Hotel Ella’s lovely upstairs ballroom Thursday night was, in typical local fashion, simultaneously fun, funky and swanky. Mighty happy supporters and equally proud board and staff members were there to celebrate the 50 (50!) years that local nonprofit Caritas has been the crucial factor in whether refugees and local homeless folks survive.
Congratulations were certainly in order, and were given, but this was no sparkly enchantment intended simply to celebrate and entertain donors. There was a lovely gourmet buffet, passed snacks, cocktails and champagne, of course — but there was always a sense of the importance of the cause at hand and an elegant simpleness to everything from the décor — which included flower arrangements made gratis by Eric Quinn, interior designer, artist and husband of Caritas Executive Director Jo Kathryn Quinn and “giving trees” that allowed participants to donate via “leaves” of different amounts — to Shinyribs, the band that both rocked the house with a moving version of Sam Cooke's “A Change Is Gonna Come” alongside its more lighthearted covers, including a rootsy take on TLC’s "Waterfalls."
Not to mention that it took place during a mild evening — a break from the recent wintriness — and encompassed the grand back balcony of Hotel Ella’s renovated historic building, which overlooks a beautiful pool area graced by sculptural artwork.
But the main show was the inside celebration, where stylishly turned out guests including Holly Jackson, Joanie Schoener, Jenny Miller, Derek Allencamp, Jane and Ben Schotz, Mary Herman and Roslyn Breen mingled, chatted and held forth about the importance of Caritas' mission. Progressive politics were in the room, too, with Pete Salazar, who recently left Caritas to run for Austin City Council, and, of course, state Sen. Kirk Watson, former Austin mayor and perhaps most recently experiencing a profile bump as Sen. Wendy Davis' political wing man, or one of them.
As Shinyribs heated up the dance floor, guests including Jacey and Stacey Zuniga, Carole and Jack Robberson, John Harcourt, Danielle Nieciag, Clay and Karen Cary, Carol and Tim Crowley, Ingrid Taylor, Amy Sawtelle, Pamela Barrier and Julia Howery circulated and Caritas staffers greeted well-wishers and donors. When it was time for the speeches, Watson set the bar high, with an impassioned recounting of his days as Austin's mayor, when Caritas was crucial to providing services to a city that had no idea how to help its homeless population. The crowd was rapt, and ED Quinn and the speakers who followed kept its attention with their inspiring accounting of all Caritas had accomplished in its 50 (50!) years. And going strong.