The 15th annual Goombay Bash, billed as a “Caribbean Festival to Find a Cure for Cancer,” exceeded all expectations this weekend when the gala soared past its goal of generating 15% more revenue than its record-breaking amount last year.
Held at the Grand Ballroom of the Navy Pier in Chicago, all of the proceeds raised by the 15th annual Goombay Bash benefit Basic Science Cancer Research at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
Just from the “live auctions” alone plus the ticket price, the event raised more than $600,000. Proceeds from the silent auctions (comprised of 200+ packages) have not been finalized as of press time.
The Celebrity Emcee of the event was LaRoyce Hawkins, who stars as Detective Kevin Atwater on NBC’s hit police drama Chicago P.D. Hawkins brought his family to the event, including his grandfather, who has recently battled cancer.
George Wendt, the actor most famous for his role of Norm on Cheers, is a frequent participant in the Goombay Bash. Wendt’s older sister is a breast cancer survivor and his best friend is currently battling the disease. “Everybody’s lives have been touched by cancer. It’s personal, and it’s personal for all of us. Everyone is fighting the good fight, including the folks at the Lurie Cancer Center and the H Foundation is helping them out,” Wendt has said.
By naming the party after a Caribbean drink (i.e. Goombay Smash) and having a Hawaiian shirt theme, the spirit of the Goombay Bash has always been one of celebration and inspiration rather than a somber occasion commemorating a deadly disease.
The initial Goombay Bash has its roots in the lighting industry – although it has grown to include the support of additional industries – when Horton’s Home Lighting in Chicago lost two of its employees at a young age to cancer. John Rot, owner of Horton’s, said he felt helpless in watching cancer take the lives of so many good people and vowed, “We’ve got to do something about this!”
Rot asked industry friends such as Neil Graves, President of the Chicago-based sales agency Tri-State Sales & Service whose grandfather died of the disease, and other people he’s met who shared this vision to help raise awareness. Graves became one of the founding fathers of the H Foundation (so named in honor of Horton’s employee Pam Hertz), which is the non-profit charity that organizes the Goombay Bash. The funds raised are used as seed money for basic science cancer research projects to help them compete for additional government or private funding. As an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the H Foundation donations have been levered into over $35 million of research dollars towards finding a cure.
The uplifting spirit of this annual event is what attracts participants and donations. “What other event could inspire an 8-year-old to sell his stuffed animals at a garage sale to raise $111 for the H Foundation?” noted John Rot.
Graves noted that after realizing how much of a difference the H Foundation has been able to make in funding research, there were more offers from lighting industry members (such as Maria Scutaro, who has been actively involved in the program for the past 14 years) to offer one-week vacations at a resort as some of the prizes available. Many lighting and ceiling fan manufacturers have gotten involved, donating prizes for the silent auction.