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'Hero's Ball' another casualty of the economy
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/14/2009 12:01 AM

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The idea for an event to honor Lake County's firefighters, police officers and paramedics had been brewing for a few years, a "thank you for jobs big and small that are done every day.

Judy Armstrong, a Round Lake Beach village trustee and president of the not-for-profit Cultural & Civic Center Foundation, has firefighting in the family. She frequently sees notes of thanks from residents for services as simple as helping someone locked out of their car.

Well established after two years of operations, Armstrong thought the Cultural & Civic Center would be a good place for a tribute. The "Hero's Ball" also would support the foundation's mission by encouraging civic participation and at the same time raise money for the facility.

"I've always had great admiration for first responders," she said. "I really thought it was an idea everybody would get on board with."

But the economy got in the way. Letters were sent in October and follow-ups made in November for the event scheduled for Feb. 21. But it never got off the ground, and now it's been canceled.

"Getting sponsorships was one of the key elements. We sent out letters and got little response. We did not collect any money at all," Armstrong said.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals reported in December that nearly 54 percent of charities responding to a survey were raising less during the last quarter of 2008 than during the same period the previous year. In 2007, about 26 percent reported raising less for the same period.

The Cultural & Civic Center Foundation had been soliciting sponsorships of $1,000 to $20,000.

The plan was to provide a free dinner for first responders. Letters of thanks would be acted out by improv artists and there would be a video tribute. Dancing and a raffle would be part of the festivities - in short, a one-night celebration.

"We didn't want to have something where we had to charge the guests," she added.

Armstrong declined to name the companies who were contacted but the bottom line for all was the same. With businesses of all types looking for ways to save money, adding another charitable contribution wasn't in the budgets.

"I think it was bad timing," Armstrong said. "My hope is down the road, we can have this event, it's just off the table for now."

She said only first responders in the immediate area had been told of the plan and were disappointed but understanding when it was canceled.

"I'm hoping this was unique," Armstrong said. "Funding is getting tougher and tougher to find, quite honestly."