Seventh annual fundraiser surpasses last year’s total

By Shannon Carr, Communications and Social Media Specialist

Morgan Autism Center’s seventh annual Starry Starry Night Gala Celebration and Fundraiser Saturday evening was a huge success at Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club in Menlo Park.

“The dedication of the staff at Morgan Autism Center and the inspiring leadership of the event chair and her extraordinary committee lent a special glow to this year’s Starry Starry Night,” MAC Board Chairwomen Nena Montgomery said. “This event always touches my heart and everyone I bring to the event feels the same way. My family feels blessed to be part of such an amazing organization.”


Executive Director Brad Boardman and Board Chairwoman Nena Montgomery thank Event Chair Vilma Pallette and Parent co-chairs Moriah Bettencourt and Paola Luna Davenport.
Photo by Jason Foy

Approximately 320 family, friends and community supporters turned out to raise their auction paddles in celebration of our everyday efforts and star artists, netting nearly $30,000 more than last year, according to preliminary reports.

“We are so thankful to those who understand the dire need for these kinds of services and who support MAC,” Executive Director Brad Boardman said following the event.

Bernard Joseph Smith, a musician and vocalist with autism, warmly welcomed attendees by playing piano and singing tunes spanning pop artists like Phillip Phillips and Mumford & Sons.

The evening kicked off with a reception and Silent Auction composed of many sought-after packages and 14 one-of-a-kind art pieces created by our students and adult clients. The night continued with dinner and a program, led by emcee John Rothman and a Live Auction led by Auctioneer Craig Silverman.

Morgan Autism Center honored Santa Cruz-based Ride a Wave and founders Danny and Heather Cortazzo with this year’s Outstanding Leadership Award for the nonprofit organization’s services providing tandem surfing, kayaking and boogie boarding activities to people with disabilities since 1998. Morgan Autism Center has been part of Ride a Wave events since 2007.


Executive Director Brad Boardman honors Ride a Wave founders Danny and Heather Cortazzo.
Photo by Jason Foy

The message of Morgan Autism Center was shared throughout the program, with heartwarming accounts from different perspectives; first by Sibling Speaker Alyssa Aiuto — who is also an instructional aide at MAC — and later followed by a Parent Presentation from Moriah Bettencourt and Paola Luna Davenport.

[vimeo 87745151 w=500 h=281] <p><a href=”″>2014-Starry Starry Night</a> from <a href=”″>Lisa Damrosch</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a>.</p>

Boardman reiterated the special attributes of programs and needs that are critical for enriching the lives of our students and clients with a personalized comic; a graphic example of the value technology can lend.

The poignant stories all undoubtedly led to the overwhelming support felt during the culminating event Fund Our Needs. At that point Silverman asked attendees to hold up their bid number at the appropriate financial level (kicking off at the $5,000 increment) with funds to support adult programming, technology and transportation needs. The $50,000 goal was exceeded, nearly doubling last year’s part of the evening alone.

“Celebrating great community partners like Ride a Wave and hearing the very touching personal stories of individuals whose lives have been changed by their affiliation with MAC really illustrated how meaningful high quality programming is to our community,” Boardman said.

Behind every successful event is a strong team. This year Event Chair Vilma Pallette led the group which included Honorary Chair Helen Owen; Parent Co-Chairs Bettencourt and Luna Davenport; Live Auction Chair Daren Tuchman and members Jill Escher and Jan Kasahara; and committee members Anna Anderson, Tom Caulfield, Elisabeth Einaudi, Nicole Ferguson, Theresa Oller, Agape Wagner and Bess Zientek.


Student artist Mishal Sadiq waves to the audience while people start bidding on Live Auction piece “Peacock.”
Photo by Jason Foy

“Working in partnership with the dedicated staff and the equally dedicated MAC mothers who comprised the Starry Starry Night Committee was an indelible privilege,” Chairwoman Pallette said. “I learned a great deal about compassion, flexibility and focus from them, along with gaining an even deeper appreciation of the unique service that the Morgan Autism Center offers.”

Morgan Autism Center would also like to thank generous sponsors of this year’s Starry Starry Night, without whom the evening would not be possible. Van Gogh Sponsors ($5,000 each) were Nena Montgomery and Michael Edson, Vilma Pallette, and The Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation; Renoir Sponsors ($2,500) were Heritage Bank, Intel Corporation and Wells Fargo Bank; Degas Sponsors ($1,500) were Focus Business Bank, Mr. & Mrs. Mitch Stermer, Steve and Bess Zientek/Frank Harrington and Jo Zientek; and Cezanne Sponsors ($1,000) were Tom and Kelly Caulfield, Peninsula Associates, Alan and Ute Ren, Terrence and Terry O’Day, and Ali Siddiqui and Naila Qureshi.

We would also like to extend a heartwarming thank you to the countless staff, parents and community volunteers — we could not have done it without them!


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