Monday, March 1, 2004

Gala Fundraiser Brings 550 Supporters for Bonita Springs Hospice House

The name starts with Hope, but the event had a lot to say about love. Some 550 people turned out on Valentine's Day for the second annual Hope Hospice benefit ball, helping to add more stones to the foundation of the group's first Bonita Springs hospice house.

Dining among roses and strewn petals at the Hyatt Regency, Coconut Point, $300-a-ticket supporters bid on items as diverse as heirloom pearls and a Gem Car, the four-seat Chrysler hybrid car for navigating neighborhoods.

"Everybody was sitting in it because everyone wanted it," said Samira Beckwith, president and CEO of the organization, laughing. "We could have charged people just to pose for pictures in it."

Groundbreaking for a hospice house is scheduled for this month. A $5 million capital campaign has passed the $1.5 million mark, according to Beckwith.

"We've been in existence 20 years and cared for people in Bonita Springs that many years. We serve people in Lee, Hendry and Glades counties, and our goal has always been to build here. When our first hospice house went in in Fort Myers in 1995, we already knew our third one would be in Bonita Springs."

Currently the organization operates a 16- bed house in Fort Myers Health Park and a 36-bed house in Cape Coral. The Bonita Springs house will hold 24 patients with terminal illnesses, and will be named for the late Joanne Dallepezze, a Bonita Springs woman who had Hope Hospice care before her death.

Her husband, John Dallepezze; son, Peter; and daughter, Christy, offered the lead gift to start the campaign for Bonita, Beckwith said. Their generosity was echoed in the Hearts of Hope Gala Feb. 14, for which cochairs Donna Roberts and Etta Smith produced some unusual prizes.

"I've been to a lot of events over years but for this one people were very generous and made it a great time. The bidding was very lively and a lot of fun," Beckwith said.

Attendees were especially intent on getting the Gem Car, but also bid heavily on a double strand of pearls with special meaning. The pearls had been donated by a hospice patient close to death who wanted to support the new hospice.

"This was so nice - a really beautiful gesture. There was family she could have given them to, but she chose to help with this," Beckwith said.