Summer officially started with the Downey Side Gala on June 22. While the weather wasn’t especially warm, the atmosphere inside Spring Lake Manor in New Jersey certainly was. Over 180 people came to our 20th annual event celebrating our mission of building forever families. The volunteer gala committee, led by Sr. Liz Engel, went above and beyond this year to create a wonderful night that was a success in so many ways. 


Firstly, we enjoyed the company of several Downey Side families, the McCorys, McQuades, Perones, and Santanas.  The Laguerras, who joined our New Jersey Director, Dawn Rusinko, on stage told their story about adopting two boys, Brent (13 yrs old) and Bentley (11 yrs old). Later in the evening, Tyler McCory, who is now 29 years old, spoke about how his adoption almost 20 years ago completely changed his life.


Thanks to the generosity of so many local businesses, the prizes donated for the evening’s raffle and silent auction lined the walls of the large function room. At the end of the night, it seemed like almost everyone went home a winner.  Together with gambling, book sales, a silent auction, and other contributions, the event raised over $40,000 — a very significant boost to Downey Side’s financial health, which in turn helps us keep costs down for adoptive families.


Family and community together are vitally important. Children in foster care are deprived of both. Shuffled from home to home they can’t make the attachments needed to be successful in life. When they are placed in a permanent family, their roots spread out beyond the nuclear family, to extended family, and into the community. Their experience broadens and their lives become balanced. It’s true for the parents, too. Raising kids in isolation, as we’ve seen through the pandemic, is incredibly tough. 


The love that the community shows at our gala is powerful. Beyond the 119 names of businesses and individuals listed in the program who contributed to the event, it reveals there are numerous ways to help; the choice isn’t just “Should I adopt or not?” It’s whether or not to turn a blind eye to a national problem. Understanding how foster care affects children, hearing their stories and becoming part of the solution by joining forces with organizations like Downey Side is how things change. 


All the adoptive families present at the event expressed a deep appreciation of the work the agency does because they know firsthand the process of adoption is too complex to navigate on their own. That Downey Side has been able to provide assistance for over half a century is due to the tremendous support we receive from the community. 


The gala demonstrates the faith people have in our organization while cherishing the love that binds us all.


-Ian Keldoulis- Downey Side Board Member