Houston Snapshots

An Inclusive Carnivale Night in Rio at the Best Buddies Gala

Event Date:  November 11, 2023
Location:  Ballroom at Bayou Place
Event:  Gala
Beneficiary:  Best Buddies
No. in attendance:  400
Money raised:
Honorary Chairs:
Heidi Somers and Logan Lester Tafelski
  CC and Duke Ensell
Honorees:  Liam O’Rourke and Jordyn Ensell
Emcee:  Sarah Pepper
Presenting Sponsor:  Admiral Transfer and Rigging
Décor:  Kirksey Gregg Productions
Photography: Scott Holleman

An Inclusive Carnivale Night in Rio at the Best Buddies Gala

What could be better than sharing time with your “Best Buddy?” Over 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) feel alone. Best Buddies is dedicated to ending their social, physical and economic isolation. Contributing towards this ongoing effort, the annual Champion of the Year Carnival of Inclusion-“A Night in Rio” was held recently for 400 enthusiastic patrons at Ballroom at Bayou Place in the downtown Houston Theater District.

For their third year, Scott “Duke” and Michelle “CC” Ensell of Admiral Transfer and Rigging, returned as Chairpersons and Presenting Sponsors of this always exciting and successful gala. Honorary Co-Chairs were Buff Bunny Collection owner Heidi Somers and former Miss Texas USA Logan Lester Tafelski. Receiving honors at this festive occasion were double-decade volunteer and Advisory Board Member Liam O’Rourke and the Grand Champion was Jordyn Ensell, who raised over $85,000 in 12 weeks, along with her mission partner Juliette Malloy.

Radio host Sarah Pepper welcomed renowned Olympian Carl Lewis, the Honorary Chairs, Chairpersons, Senior Vice President of Best Buddies David Quilleon and Area Director Julie Garza. One of David’s proud jobs for the evening was making the trip from Miami to surprise and present the award to Liam O’Rourke, whom he mentored.

Guests were treated to a vibrant Carnival-themed evening filled with eye-catching outfits, unique live and silent auction items, brilliant Samba dancers, and an inspiring program before they danced the night away, raising more than $291,000 in the process.

One of the mission pillars for Best Buddies has always been jobs. The JOBS program secures employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, allowing them to earn an income, pay taxes, and continuously and independently support themselves. Gucci, legendary fashion pioneer and leader in inclusion, has partnered with Best Buddies and hired a Best Buddies participant to work at Gucci.

Local designer Kirksey Gregg and his production company brought the “Night in Rio” theme straight from Brazil with rich, bright colors, large feathers, vivid florals and Brazil-inspired music and dancing.

In the Social Scene (not previously mentioned):  Shay Calhoun, Alex O’Rourke, Diane Schram, Gaylon Gullquist, Gary Thomas, Kathryn Lott, Tommy Pepper, Judy and Jim Nicklos, Jim and Vy Hopkins, Victoria Jones, Harriet Gertner, Cade Zimmerman, Kevin Harkel, Rick Carrer and Kat Kearns, Ruben Perez and Tianna Hall Perez

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