Now in its 22nd year, Grayson County’s most indulgent fundraiser is concentrating on the volunteers that make the work done by Court Appointed Special Advocates possible.
“This year we added the tag ‘Year of the Volunteer,’” said CASA Executive Director Natalie Jamison. “Volunteer advocates are the heartbeat of CASA and we want to spotlight their accomplishments, dedication to the organization, and their children.”
In late January, CASA had 54 volunteers with four more in training. At the same time, the organization had 131 children under their care, with 18 of those children still needing a volunteer. Jamison said volunteers spend about 15 to 20 hours a month on their cases.
The money raised through their annual Chocolate Indulgence fundraiser helps pay for travel expenses for those volunteers as well as training and support staff and building operations. Jamison said the event will consist of a sit down dinner or buffet, music and dancing, live and silent auctions, and of course, chocolate. Two years ago they started a VIP poker room, where guests pay to play for prizes that are only available in the VIP room.
The overall goal of the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year is to raise $100,000. “Of course, we’re glad to raise more,” Jamison said. This year’s event is, once again, sold out.
“With ticket sales and sponsors, we usually have around 400+ individuals at the event. It’s always humbling to see the generosity of the community’s support,” Jamison added.
To get ready for this year’s fundraiser, staff and volunteers started working just a few weeks after last year’s event.
“We start with a theme,” Jamison said. “The theme sets the vibe for the event. Being in a smaller community, you want to do something new and different.”
Of course, they also have to consider the venue. For the past several years, Chocolate Indulgence has been held in the ballroom at the Hilton Garden Inn because it was the only space large enough to handle the event. However, that space is in demand, so Jamison and her crew have to work around any possible conflicts to secure a booking around the Valentine’s Day date they traditionally prefer.
As in years’ past, Jamison said, the Hilton will handle the dinner and alcohol portion of the event, but the chocolate as well as the live and silent auctions are still the responsibility of CASA staff and volunteers. She said it all comes together because “teamwork makes the dream work!” That teamwork includes all of the brainstorming to decide on auction items, mixed together with the kindness of community members and a little creativity.
And then there’s the chocolate. Boy, oh boy is there ever chocolate, and enough of it to make Willy Wonka green with envy.
“By special request and approval, the Hilton allows us to bring in our own chocolate,” Jamison said in a previous interview. “We have our own vendors who supply our chocolate and toffee and we buy what we need from them. We try to go above and beyond to make sure our guests get the best.”
In addition to a chocolate fountain, Jamison said there is a mélange of chocolates for even the most discriminating palate.
Do you prefer a buttery toffee or does a delicate ganache (raspberry, chocolate orange, or Tiramisu) grab your attention? Maybe a more traditional caramel or marzipan, or champagne truffles or vegan chocolates (got ‘em).
“If you walk out without finding a chocolate you like, you may not actually like chocolate,” Jamison said.
To accomplish this, the search for chocolate ranges from locations in East Texas and West Virginia to Switzerland. Teuscher, headquartered in Zurich, provides the highly popular Champagne truffles, and Mary of Puddin Hill, a Palestine confectioner whose roots reach back to 1839, provides the toffee.
Jamison said the champagne truffles are the most expensive chocolates offered at the event each year.
“These are a favorite and have to be watched closely in the office. I try to sneak a few before the event,” Jamison admitted.
In addition to the champagne truffles and toffee, they also try get chocolates that have been popular in previous years and take into consideration recommendations from the vendors.
“This year we are trying a few new flavors with our VIP sponsor to determine if we should change a few flavors,” Jamison said.
In addition to the chocolate, the event will feature food with an Asian flair in honor of this year’s theme — “The Year of the Volunteer” — and will be prepared by Chef Ben at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Jamison said the most exciting aspect of the event is watching while it all comes together, then being there in the room the night of while everyone has a great time supporting CASA’s mission of helping local volunteers become the voice for local children in court.