By DARIAN ESWINE
Those who give freely were given praise by the American Red Cross at the 16th annual Bales’ Humanitarian Gala on Thursday evening.
“The purpose of this event is to honor humanitarianism and honor people who prioritize reaching out to the community,” said Catie Wheatley, executive director of the American Red Cross Clark County Chapter.
The inaugural event was held in 1988. It honored Hazel and Walter Bales — longtime local business leaders. They were also strong supporters of Clark County Red Cross, which is how the Bales and Red Cross partnership formed.
Now, each year the Gala recognizes Humanitarian Award recipients in the Bales’ honor.
“We had our first meeting in January. Luckily, we have a strong foundation and a lot of support from the community,” Wheatley said.
Three humanitarians were recognized — Paula Robinson, Harold Goodlett and Jennifer Mills-Knutsen.
Scott Carr, chairperson of the Red Cross board of directors, presented the awards to the recipients.
Robinson, Floyds Knobs, who volunteers with several organizations, was the first honoree. Carr said the one item he remembers reading in the nomination packet are the words, “I know she is a gift from God.”
“I encourage everyone to find a charity they connect with and give back,” Robinson said. “The rewards you’ll get back are well worth the investments.”
Goodlett, Charlestown, serves on the gala community board. Carr said Goodlett is a man of integrity who wants others to succeed alongside him.
“It is, I think, one of the best awards that could be bestowed upon a person,” Goodlett said.
In his remarks, Carr said the Rev. Mills-Knutsen, pastor at St. Luke’s United Church of Christ, has developed a significant track record for helping people in a short period of time.
“In pastoral life, much like a Red Cross worker, we are invited to be with people on the worst days of their lives, but also on the best,” Mills-Knutsen said.
Wheatley has been with Red Cross just shy of three years. She said, for her, “there is something inherently dignifying about watching someone suffering and saying, ‘I see you.’”
Wheatley spoke during the event, which drew more than 400 people, talking of her own experience with Red Cross and humanitarian efforts.
“I was deployed to Oklahoma after the tornadoes and that type of devastation can shock you,” she said. “But when bad things happen, you have a choice. You can either say I can’t do this, or you can say this is not going to be the last word of this story.”
Wheatley said she cannot replace life and cannot mend everything, but she believes the “greatest service we can offer is our reverence of humanity.”
The evening’s event began with a meal and then proceeded to a Red Cross video while the silent auction took place. Wheatley then spoke, followed by the live auction. The auction featured items such as a 42-inch flat screen TV donated by Sam’s club, and an autographed “Silver Linings Playbook” poster donated by Harold and Joann Goodlett, and Ernie Thompson.
Nominations are open call and accepted throughout the year. Wheatley said the honorees were chosen in June by the board, along with past award recipients.
“These people are the most remarkable, humble, most giving people I have met,” said Cheryl Seeders, co-chair of the event.
Wheatley had a few last words of thanks for the supporters of the night’s event, which was held at Huber’s Plantation Hall.
“I want to thank the ongoing generosity of the Bales Foundation for helping to make Red Cross services available everywhere free of charge,” she said.
As for next year’s event, Seeders said she is looking forward to perusing the nominations.
“I just can’t wait to look at all of the new humanitarians coming in and growing the event,” Seeders said.
Wheatley said the overall purpose of this event is to recognize those doing good in the community.
“There is no greater gift than giving someone what they need at exactly the moment they need it most,” she said.