Amy Scherzer's Diary: Cut it or Keep it for USF Health; FARA Energy Ball for ataxia

Published September 18 2013
Updated September 18 2013

Cut it or Keep it for USF Health

Much to his mother Lee's dismay, South Tampa veterinarian Hansel Leavengood is hanging on to the ponytail he has worn for 20 years. This summer, the lifelong diabetic vowed to get a haircut if it meant money for local diabetes research and programs.

Friends voted — cut it or keep it — with donations, said Leavengood, 56, who was diagnosed at 22 months old. By Sept. 10, about 130 people had their say: Cutters amounted to $4,250; keepers to $5,530.

"To be matched by the Patterson Foundation of Sarasota," said Nicole Johnson, executive director of Bringing Science Home at USF Health, as supporters toured the new Diabetes Home for Healthy Living, offering lab tests, retinal scans and classes at West Shore and Kennedy boulevards.

"I wasn't really worried," Leavengood said. "I knew I could always write the last check."

5th annual FARA Energy Ball

Call it FARA fervor. Fired up guests at the FARA Energy Ball generated $1.5 million for Friedreich's ataxia research.

"We're so close we can taste it," said Paul Avery, who created the Sept. 7 benefit to fund the epicenter of clinical trials: the Ataxia Research Center at the University of South Florida, run by the Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA). Daughter Allison Avery, a sophomore at Elon University, spoke via video about living with the energy-depleting, mobility-impairing disease.

Avery packed A La Carte Event Pavilion with friends ready to make substantial contributions, like Sandi Sullivan's $50,000 bid for an Alaskan fishing trip for Outback Steakhouse hubby Chris, who was out of town. Palm Beach pal Bill Finneran bid $31,000 to visit the Averys' 10,000-acre Bell Cross Ranch in Cascade, Mont., as well as $10,000 for a yellow Lab puppy.

Tampa Bay Lightning honchos Jeff Vinik and third-time FARA Ball chairman Tod Leiweke enticed $1,500-and-up donors with two party suite tickets to the Eagles concert at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. That added up to $258,000, enough to fund at least 1,000 FA patients.

No dance floor, so what? The Black Honkeys got the crowd dancing between tables. "I'd rather have over 800 guests here than a dance floor," said sponsor Paul Jacobs, pleased at the squeeze. "More people, more funds for FARA."

Big Brothers Big Sisters' Art of Helping Children gala

Beneath puffy clouds and dangling umbrellas, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay's annual Art of Helping Children gala showered guests with entertainment from 1952-Hollywood classic Singin' in the Rain. Was that Gene Kelly swinging from a lamppost backed by long-legged dancers in yellow slickers? A fun riff on Donald O'Connor's Make 'em Laugh did just that.

WTSP-Ch. 10 anchors Heather Van Nest and Reginald Roundtree recognized three pairs of Bigs (adult volunteers) and Littles (children they mentor) as Big Sisters of the Year. But the biggest thrill for the 550 guests was surprising Davone, 13, one of 600 kids on the mentoring agency's waiting list, with a Big Brother, Daniel Petrilla.

Singing and dancing continued Saturday with American Idol contestant and Blake High student Shannon Magrane and Blake's band at A La Carte Event Pavilion. Auction bidders Cindy and Robert Buchanan and Peggy and Rick Warner walked away with Sonoma Valley vineyard trips for $10,000 each.

The most successful gala ever, say board chairman Brian Auld and CEO Stephen Koch, with net proceeds of $300,000.