It would be enough to see 50 beautiful, funny, talented children and young adults on stage.
And, it would be enough to watch those kids, all with their own unique challenges in life, receive applause and adulation for being the amazing little human beings they are.
And, it would be satisfying enough just to recoup the costs of an event where we can do those things. Of course, our primary goal is to make these kids feel special, show the community the work we’re doing, and say “thank you” to our supporters.
And, it would be even more gratifying to see that event meet a fundraising goal set six months ago, with the knowledge that it was a big leap of faith and an ambitious plan.
But to surpass that fundraising goal, and blow past revenues out of the water?
All you can say to that is “wow.”
I, like just about everyone at Saturday night’s Fifth Annual Big Hearts Pageant, spent Sunday walking on air. (I might have occasionally felt like I was sleep-walking due to the exhaustion -- but it was walking on air nonetheless!)
I got the unique opportunity to shuttle back and forth across the Classic Center on Saturday: from the banquet hall where we held a dinner to kick off our $5.8 million capital campaign, to the auction room where the bids for some items came fast and furious, to the front lobby where people streamed through the doors (some of them unsure what to expect), to the theater where people clapped and screamed for joy, to back stage, where a group of dedicated volunteers bonded with the contestants and kept them happy, cheerful, and energized until late in the evening.
It was a cross-section of joy and wonder and incredible togetherness that exists in few places.
Many people who had never experienced an ESP program were gushing about the show afterwards. One of our judges, who helped choose “title holders” from among the 50 contestants, gave me a big hug after the event. She was the one volunteering her Saturday night to help us put on the show, and before I even had a chance to thank her, she thanked me.
We’d never met before Saturday night.
Four UGA football players and three additional young women, all of them pageant winners in their own right, helped escort the children and young adults on stage. Back stage, they mingled with the kids -- telling them what a great job they were doing, joking with them, signing footballs for them (the football players, of course, not the beauty queens).
Kids on stage did the unexpected: sang an entire song (occasionally with their backs to the audience), charged onto stage like they owned the place, poked fun at the emcees when someone got their age wrong.
And they brought the house to its feet: Adnan C. showed off a costume that would have made Elvis himself jealous and Lyric R. sang “Lean on Me” to a clapping, cheering audience.
In all, ESP raised $35,000 on Saturday night, after expenses. That surpassed our goal by $5,000, even though we knew we were significantly raising the bar by moving to the Classic Center for the first time, with its 2,000-seat theatre. Expenses at this venue were higher, and we knew the space left by empty seats would inevitably seem bigger.
But we brought 1,267 people into that theatre on Saturday night, and the laughter, applause and cheers provided by those people filled every crack and crevice.
A bigger space meant new expenses and new challenges -- but it also brought us the opportunity to share the magic of ESP with more people than ever.
And the response we got was simply astounding.
We want to thank the Northeast Georgia community for the love and support on display Saturday evening. We made so, so many new friends over the weekend, which is one of the most important (and joy-filled) things of all.
ESP needs friends to grow and thrive in this community, and the kids we serve need friends like you to live full, happy lives.