“Greatest Gala” an Inspiring Night of Giving

Categories: Events
Samara Douglas, a patient-artist, enjoyed interacting with Nimble Arts performers during the lively, side show-inspired cocktail reception.

P.T. Barnum once said, “The noblest of arts is making others happy.” It’s a principle that the 1,100 guests at this year’s Connecticut Children’s “Greatest Showman”-themed Gala took to heart. Attendees and online supporters generated a record-shattering total of nearly $1.5 million, to help kids like 11-year-old Samara Douglas. Samara, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2018, came to Connecticut Children’s in July 2019 for specialty care and is now stabilized and doing well. Her story proved to be doubly inspiring when her original artwork was auctioned off that night, fetching an impressive $1,500 and underscoring an inspiring night of giving under the Big Top.

Valentine the Clown writes on the hand of Alison Davis of J.P. Morgan, one of the Gala sponsors.

A Big Night Under the Big Top

On Saturday, November 2, the Connecticut Convention Center Ballroom was transformed into a Big Top, complete with relics from the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport. A sword swallower, jugglers, stilt walkers and Connecticut Children’s own “Valentine the Clown” entertained guests during the reception in the ballroom lobby. The main event in the ballroom featured a pair of aerialists, an acrobat and a juggler, along with a ringmaster, all part of a company called Nimble Arts.

Part of the entertainment for the gala was the Fairfield County Children’s Choir. They sang songs from “The Greatest Showman” movie, including one that accompanied a pair of aerialists’ performance.

The Fairfield County Children’s Choir sang songs from “The Greatest Showman,” and at the end of the night, a Boston-based band, Flipside, got everyone on their feet for some enthusiastic dancing.


Eli O’Mara, who served as General Tom Thumb, accompanied Connecticut Children’s President and CEO James Shmerling to the stage, along with David Roth, Chairman of Connecticut Children’s Corporate Board, to welcome guests to the sold-out event. Eli, who was first hospitalized at 8 months of age due to extreme food allergies, is now a thriving 6-year-old, who enjoys first grade, going to the beach, playing baseball and cheering for the New York Giants.

Connecticut Children’s patient Eli O’Mara made an appearance at the gala dressed as General Tom Thumb, one of the stars of P.T. Barnum’s early shows. David Roth, the Chair of Connecticut Children’s Corporate Board, seen behind Eli, told the boy’s story to the crowd.

“Every day at Connecticut Children’s, we work hard to create a world where all children will one day have access to the care and services needed to support their best physical, social and emotional health,” he said.


Among the other dignitaries in attendance were Miss America and Miss Connecticut, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Matt Gordon, Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, the mayors of Hartford and West Hartford and Senator Richard Blumenthal.

Jillian Duffy, Miss Connecticut for 2019, described for the audience her own story as a cancer patient at Connecticut Children’s in 2012. Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal (behind her) introduced Jillian to the crowd.

Miss Connecticut, Jillian Duffy, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2010 at the age of 13, spoke movingly about her personal connection with Connecticut Children’s. “For two and a half years, Connecticut Children’s became my second home,” Jillian said. “While I underwent chemotherapy treatments, my incredible team cared for me and consoled me, but most importantly, they encouraged me to never give up hope. They gave me the courage to continue to pursue my dream of one day becoming Miss Connecticut.”


Greatest Gala Inspired Giving

The first item up for bid at the gala’s live auction was a painting by Samara Douglas (left). The winning $1,500 bid was made by Letha and Thomas Kunkel, seen here with the artist.

One of the highlights of the evening was the live auction, which gave the audience a chance to bid on some spectacular items to further benefit patient care. In addition to Samara’s painting, live auction items included a week-long stay on the grounds of Blenheim Palace in England and four tickets to Wimbledon. There were also seats behind home plate and VIP treatment at a Yankees game and a Golden Ticket experience at LEGO headquarters. And then there were vacations in Portugal and at a winery in California and dinners prepared in the winners’ homes by renowned chefs Tyler Anderson and Dorjan Puka. There was also a silent auction for an enormous range of items, from bottles of wine to a gold record donated by the Commodores.

Nursing in the Spotlight

The live auction was followed by the annual “Bid for Kids” appeal, which each year focuses on one particular aspect of Connecticut Children’s care. This year, the focus was on the incredible nurses who deliver so much skill and compassion for our patients. Their abilities were acknowledged nationally this year with a Magnet® designation, the highest honor in nursing, awarded to only 7 percent of all hospitals in the country, including adult hospitals. The appeal asked the audience to make donations in support of the nursing program, which they did with extraordinary generosity. Click here to see the Bid for Kids video, which shares how nurses at Connecticut Children’s made a measurable impact in the lives of two patients and their families.

One hundred percent of the $443,587 dedicated to Bid for Kids will provide support for Connecticut Children’s nurses, as they care for patients, pursue their innovative research and ensure a strong future for the patients they serve. These funds will empower nurse researchers and innovators across the institution and advance numerous initiatives that will enhance Connecticut Children’s nursing program—saving the lives of more children.

Gala support also will enable staff to invest in advanced resources that benefit patients now and set the stage for a better future. The Greatest Need Children’s Fund may support new research and help attract and retain the best clinicians for patient care. It will also provide meal or parking vouchers for families in need or give child life specialists the resources they need to give every child the best possible experience during their time at Connecticut Children’s.

“It was tremendous evening in every way,” said Jim Shmerling . “The incredible turnout and the even more incredible generosity of our supporters and sponsors was amazing to see. Because of that generosity, we will be able to serve more children in every part of Connecticut and beyond.”

The Gala may be over, but the spirit of giving continues. If you would like to make an immediate impact on patient care at Connecticut Children’s, give today.

View the 2019 Photo Gallery