CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - There are small non-profit organizations across our viewing area that have huge impacts on the people they serve. But many are like 'the little engine that could.' They succeed by the sheer determination and hard work of their founders and volunteers, with no help from a national organization for funding.
The Sandbox is one of those gems in Charlotte. They serve families with kids who have cancer, or other life altering illnesses, navigate through their diagnosis. The Sandbox makes sure they know they are never alone.
Saturday night The Sandbox got a huge boost from The Ballantyne Ball's masquerade gala.
"The ball was created in an effort to unmask local charities in critical need of funding. It was started in 2014 and last Saturday's ball was our second. And we are so pleased we chose The Sandbox this year," Ballantyne Ball board member Stephanie Melish told me.
"Mara Campolungo, co-founder and Executive Director of The Sandbox, has a contagious passion for her organization. Hearing her explain what they're doing really opened my eyes to what monumental work they do year-round to help these families and their kids. I was fortunate this fall to be at 'An Evening of Believing Prom'. What a magical night they create for such deserving kids,' Melish said.
The Ballantyne Ball chose The Sandbox out of seven charities. Each charity goes through an auditioning process to become the beneficiaries of the ball's fundraising efforts.
When I asked Mara Campolungo about the ball she told me, "Saturday evening was indescribably magical on so many levels. Our entire team of Sandboxers are so grateFULL and truly amazed at the outpouring of love and support we have received."
As they say at The Sandbox, when a child is diagnosed with cancer or other life altering illness, the entire family is diagnosed, because they all live through it. The Sandbox supports those families during the most difficult time in their lives, so they can focus on what is most important, healing. But their efforts don't stop there. 'An Evening of Believing Prom' is The Sandbox's signature event for the kids and the families they work with, they call children their 'Honorees'.
"Since our flagship event, 'An Evening of Believing Prom', is solely focused on serving our honorees versus a fundraiser, it is vital that we find and garner community support to keep our engine moving forward. The Ballantyne Ball's efforts provided us a huge platform and vehicle to allow our families to have a voice," Mara said of the importance of being chosen by The Ballantyne Ball.
The crowd fought back tears as three Sandbox families took the stage at The Ballantyne Resort. With honesty and candor they shared how they've been helped by the efforts of The Sandbox, not just on prom night, but 365 days a year.
"We give thanks and are so very proud of our families who got on stage and shared their journeys. Our hope is that the community understands the depth of diagnosis we support. We are proud that we support cancer and a wide range of rare and life altering illnesses as well as after care for those families who have lost their warrior," Mara Campolungo said.
When I asked The Ballantyne Ball's Stephanie Melish if they had a total for the fundraising efforts, she told me they are still tallying the donations. I can say as emcee of the event, the crowd had a wonderful time. Ernest Perry of Perry's fine Antique and Estate Jewelry got the crowd going for the auction.
The Dickens Band capped off the night with fabulous music, which the crowd loved!
Melish marvels as she remembers her night at this year's prom, "As a woman, anything 'red-carpet' is exciting. To be a part of playing paparazzi was fun, and to see the continuous flow of families and kids and smiles and bright eyes of amazement as they flowed down the red carpet for two hours, even in the rain, was just joyous. It was truly a night I will never forget."
Melish wanted me to remind readers you can still donate to The Ballantyne Ball for The Sandbox.
I've been to four proms. I know what she's talking about. I count The Sandbox prom as one of the greatest nights I have every year.
If you would like to learn more about how you, your church group, or youth organization can get involved, visit their web site here.