It was nineteen years ago when our founder, Becky Douglas, went to India in search of hope. It was there that she found a large community of people searching for that very same thing. Soon after her return home, she and four other humble but eager women founded Rising Star Outreach around her kitchen table to form Rising Star Outreach. That small gathering of friends was the initial drop that has since resulted in an incredible tidal wave of change. On February 20, 2020, Rising Star Outreach hosted another important gathering of friends, our first-ever Gala to celebrate giving and to honor our great supporters, the Marriott family. That night, Becky and Sharon Thompson, one of the founding women, had the opportunity to sit in a room filled with generous and equally eager people who believed in a vision they had years ago.  

It was a beautiful evening filled with bold gestures and commitments to change lives. There was a strong spirit of unity as over 500 people joined together for a single cause. It was breathtaking to see the room filled with leaders from business, government, religion, and society come together to focus their attention on serving the “untouchables” – the leprosy affected – and through that showing their knowledge and belief that those friends are not untouchable, rather that we are all equal.

So many wonderful items and services were donated by members of our community who felt inspired to donate their skills and resources. Our guests generously bid on those items before moving into the main hall for dinner. The silent auction room was buzzing with excitement as guests placed their bids on their favorite items and bonded with each other over the act of giving. 

After connecting with each other over a lovely meal, we had the pleasure of presenting the Rising Star Outreach Legacy of Giving Award to members of both sides of the Marriott family. We were honored to have representatives from these families in attendance, so that we could celebrate with them this powerful partnership and their legacy of giving. We were then privileged to hear from Dick Marriott regarding this shared cause and the caring values that united us all.  His words were powerful and his message was inspiring. We were all left with an even greater desire to give and help others. We are continually grateful for the Marriott family’s brilliant example of selflessness and service.

Continued support from the Marriott Family has been empowering. The vision goes on and is largely due to the confidence and hope the Marriott family has had in our organization.

During the evening, we were dazzled by Tony & Emmy Award Winner, Kristin Chenoweth, and the Gentlemen Trio, GENTRI, who focused their talent on touching and inspiring hearts. Their words and music connected us all as we remembered the purpose of the evening. They also charmed us with their wit and humor and brought another level of joy to the evening as we laughed together.

Talent spilled over into our live auction and paddle raise when the genius auctioneer, Chuck Dukas, took his place on stage. The energy in the room crescendoed as paddles were raised high into the air, each one symbolizing a pledge to make a real change in the life of someone in India. Each pledge was paid in a currency not of money, alone, but hope as well. 

We were already blown away by the generosity of all in attendance, when we were overcome to learn that someone in the audience had felt so moved by the messages and spirit that evening that they pledged an additional $1 million to support vaccinations and health in India. Our wish is that everyone will experience the joy that all those present felt when we realized that this one night would change countless lives of the people we love and serve in India. 

The impact of that one night will be remembered forever by the people that were present but more so by the people who weren’t – the people whose families will benefit for generations. 

Over $2 million was raised, most of which was raised in a matter of just a few hours. These funds will help cover the cost of vaccinations, medical treatments, teacher salaries, microloans for entrepreneurs, a new school campus and programs in Bihar, and other wonderful resources that will empower those who are affected by leprosy to rise above stigma and live healthy, productive lives.

Becky shared, “I’m still a little breathless every time I think of the gala! It almost feels surreal to me.  I don’t think any of us in our very wildest dreams ever could have predicted that outcome.”

At Rising Star Outreach, we believe that there is a special power in the work that we do and that we are stronger together. However, we are still in awe of the power of that strength. 

Thank you to everyone who has believed in us from the beginning. Thank you to all of our new supporters, as well, and to members of the growing Rising Star Outreach family. Thank you to those who attended our Gala and to those who were there in spirit. Thank you to those who donated goods and time to help make this gala such a success. Thank you to our dedicated board members. Thank you to those who donated time, energy, and resources to make the gala as special as it was. Of course we want to say a special thank you to the Marriott family for your kind and humble example of giving. 

Thank you for your support and love. We could not have done this without any of you. We are so excited to see where we will be in another 19 years and are thrilled we will have you by our side to celebrate our victories along the way!

Photos courtesy of photographer, Breanna White. 

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