As 400 well-dressed guests took their seats for the 15th Annual Nite of Hope, gasps of surprise, followed by thunderous applause, greeted event chair Shelley Leonhardt and founder Judi Miller Knapp as they rolled onto the River Rock Casino Resort's stage in a brand new shiny white BMW convertible.
"Judi and I were the Bond women, if you will, arriving to Casino Royale," said Leonhardt. "It was so much fun and I could tell the crowd really enjoyed it as well."
This set the stage for a wonderful evening filled with fabulous food, live entertainment, an eye-popping fashion show and a live auction packed with surprises and over-the-top bids.
This year's charity gala dinner and fashion show, dubbed Casino Royale, thrilled the audience with its James Bond theme.
The theatre was decked out in chic Bondesque style and the excitement had formally attired guests opening their wallets wide, raising more than $206,000, with monies still pouring in.
Partiers were encouraged to dress up in their favourite 007 finery and many did.
To the delight of the audience, the 50/50 tuxedo-clad gentlemen strutted into the theatre as a video spoof of them playing James Bond in and around Steveston was shown on the large television screens.
Once again, the evening's auctioneer was Howard Blank, vice president of media and entertainment for Great Canadian Casinos.
Blank fuelled the crowd with addition of extras, such as theatre tickets to upcoming shows and free night stays at the River Rock to the live auction packages, which enabled him to entice attendees to spend even more money - with some of the items going for more than their appraised value.
In the end, the live auction fetched a whopping $27,100.
"He does an amazing job and we so appreciate what Howard and the casino give us . they truly are extremely generous to Nite of Hope," said Leonhardt.
Toronto's sultry R&B chanteuse, Jully Black, took the house down with her amazing voice and energy.
"Jully was outstanding and she definitely delivered. She was everything we hoped for and more," said Leonhardt. "She was very real in both her speech and during the Rose Ceremony, when she hugged many of the women who came on stage.
"She told me later how moved she was by the ceremony."
The Rose Ceremony inevitably brings tears to many audience members. This annual tradition invites breast cancer survivors and breast cancer victims on stage to receive a rose.
Meantime, as the guest speaker as well, Black told the crowd how she was personally touched by breast cancer herself.
"When I was 27, I noticed a lump on my breast and I was sent for a mammogram," said Black.
"When I went to the clinic, they told me I was too young to have breast cancer and they turned me away."
Black encouraged everyone in the audience to trust themselves if they suspect a lump and to go for regular mammograms.
But it was Black's powerful voice and stage presence that really had the crowd cheering.
For founder Miller Knapp, the evening was a culmination of months of sweat and hard work from a dedicated volunteer committee.
"I'm so thrilled that we have sustained our ability to engage sponsors, donors and guests to support the event after 15 years," she said.
"I feel truly blessed that we have such a strong and committed volunteer committee who make the Nite of Hope what it is each year. They continue to raise incredible donations to support the important research into breast cancer under the guidance of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation."
Peggy O'Brien, who has been on the Nite of Hope committee for years said, "Wow, what an evening. Many hours of hard work from all our volunteers and executive brought together another amazing gala.
"Thank you to all our guests, donors and sponsors who assisted us in raising the dollars for Breast Cancer Research. Together we do make a difference!"
Meantime, after two years at the helm, Leonhardt is stepping down as chair, however, she will continue on as a Nite of Hope committee member.
"I feel humbled that for six months of the year, the committee and volunteers all work extremely hard to make that event such a resounding success," she said.
"It is bittersweet to step down, but I'm proud by how much money we raise each year for such a great cause."
She paused for a moment and added, "You work all year without thinking about the impact of the night. It never really hits you until it all comes together that evening."
Leonhardt went on to add: "Every year, I'm also touched and moved by the Rose Ceremony, it always gets to me."
The Nite of Hope funds much needed research into breast cancer by providing post-graduate research fellowships through the guidance of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
For more information about Nite of Hope and upcoming events, visit www. niteofhope.com.
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