It’s resembled ancient Greece, hosted a miniature Eiffel Tower, even transformed into a winter wonderland complete with log cabins, a sleigh and giant snowflakes.
It’s Charity Ball – and those are just a few of the themes the annual event has taken on.
Since its inauguration in 1985, the ball has become Western’s largest formal event and second largest University Students’ Council (USC) event after orientation week.
There are changes every year, but its purpose is unwavering – to fundraise and spread awareness for a local London charity and get dressed up for an extravagant night.
It’s a cocktail of Good Samaritans and red-carpet fashion.
“You back a good cause while dancing and looking fancy. It’s a memorable night,” said Flora Chu, a fifth-year undergraduate who has gone to the ball twice.
That was one of the goals of the student council that started Charity Ball – to build a stronger relationship between the London community and Western students.
Co-chairman of the first ball, and USC vice-president of communications at the time, Doug Wotherspoon, told the Gazette, “I think students this year will demand one next year.”
Alan Thicke hosted the inaugural Charity Ball in 1985. The event raised $14,000. Half went to the London Foundation and the other half to Foundation Western
What changes each year are details, such as the committee members, venue, date and charity to receive the proceeds.
The first ball was held on campus, but it has moved around to places such as the Western Fair and the London Convention Centre. The event takes place on an evening between mid-January and early-February and many charities have been helped over the years, including the Children’s Health Foundation and Sunshine Foundation.
Last year, the committee chose the Wait List Clinic (WLC) of the Canadian Mental Health Association to be the donation recipient.
That’s what the committee must do, said Tori Stone, coordinator of last year’s event – make the tough decision of which charity gets the cheque out of the numerous that apply every summer.
“You could tell they were really passionate,” said Stone of the WLC. “They invited us to the clinic and put on a demo of the work they carry out on a daily basis.”
In January 2012, the WLC opened as a response to growing wait lists for mental health services. The clinic helps people cope with the wait by training university students to provide counselling under the supervision of a clinical psychologist.
The $17,956 raised last year continues to help fund the clinic, said Felicia Otchet, founder of the WLC. “They are the reason we can continue to keep our doors open,” she said.
Before last year, donations from the Charity Ball were steadily declining from a record amount of $26,811 in 2008 to just $6,585 in 2012. Stone said this was because the ball became thought of as primarily a USC event. She sought to remove that stereotype by increasing awareness of the event
“I wanted to make it something where all students felt invited. I think people really love the idea of a student formal and getting dressed up – especially when it supports a good cause.”
Stone set a goal of selling 2,000 of the 2,500 tickets available each year. Together, she and the committee surpassed that and sold 2,138.
This year, the ball supported Arts for All London, a volunteer organization that offers free fine arts lessons, such as piano and dance, to children who could not otherwise afford it, said coordinator Victoria Limary.
Sometimes the charity selected is revealed immediately when the committee comes to a decision by the end of August. Last year, it was kept secret until January to “build hype” a few weeks before the event, said Limary. This time, the committee unveiled the charity in late-November to create anticipation and provide opportunities for students to volunteer with the charity.
“It’s definitely something a lot of students will feel passionate about,” Limary said.
Like her predecessor, Limary’s trying to remove the stigma of Charity Ball being an event only for the USC. “I want to get rid of that exclusivity,” she said. “Everybody should be able to support a charitable cause.”
“It’s a fun night and the Western population gets to support a local London cause. It shows that students aren’t just thinking of themselves and being inside this Western bubble.”