On Saturday, October 15th, red feathers and red gowns abounded at The Biltmore’s Coral Casino for the United Way’s 20th annual Red Feather Ball. This year’s bash was extra special as it was also a retirement party for the much-admired president and CEO, Paul Didier.
A dramatic twilight sky offered a stunning backdrop for the reception at the water’s edge, and festive lighting and music contributed to the party atmosphere. True to his generous nature, Didier stood at the entrance to La Pacifica Terrace to personally greet and pose for a photo with each of the 280 guests.
After the reception, guests adjourned to La Pacifica Ballroom for dinner, where the Doublewide Kings were already playing and some guests took to the dance floor even before dinner.
Andrew Firestone welcomed the guests and extolled the impact Didier has had in his 40 years as president and CEO. “Think of all the young people who have come through the United Way and have gone on to amazing things … all because they had the spark lit by the United Way and Paul.” Firestone introduced a video on the Fun in the Sun and United for Literacy programs, the two beneficiaries of the evening, and then lead a paddle raise.
Fun in the Sun is a summer learning program that dramatically improves reading, math, social, and behavioral skills of low-income children, while also providing recreational experiences. United for Literacy offers a multitude of programs to engage parents in their child’s education, to provide access to books, and to provide online literacy programs for children and adults.
Among those paying tribute to Didier was a former colleague, Tamara Skov, who noted his “truly extraordinary mind” and how he was “always looking for new and better ways of doing things.” His wife, Bobbi Didier, commented on his amazing humility and shared how he was persuaded to be honored only because of all the money that the event would raise for his Fun in the Sun program.
Event chair Dr. Peter MacDougall commended Didier’s 40-year tenure as president and CEO, which exceeds the national average for United Way by 10 times. He praised him as an innovative leader who pioneered many partnerships that broadly impacted our community. MacDougall noted some of the highlights of Didier’s extensive accomplishments, including the Day of Caring, the Heritage Club endowment fund, the Fun in the Sun program, and the Power of Partnership initiative.
In accepting the Abercrombie Award, Didier recounted moving moments in his career where he witnessed the dramatic impact of United Way’s programs on the lives of students. He then announced that he and his wife, Bobbi Didier, are creating a $500,000 in-house venture capital fund called the Didier Innovation Fund. He concluded by expressing his gratitude for the “experience of a lifetime and friends of a lifetime.”
MacDougall shared that the board was very pleased that COO Steve Ortiz would succeed Didier as president and CEO.
Since 1923, United Way of Santa Barbara County (UWSBC) has played a major role as a community fundraiser. In 1998, it began offering services as well, through its own programs and through partnerships with other organizations. UWSBC is one of just a handful of United Ways in the nation to have made this shift. It has more than 30 partnerships with more than 200 public and private organizations. In 2015, UWSBC invested $3.5 million in local community initiatives, with more than half of the funding going to education programs and the remainder to health programs and financial empowerment programs.
For more information about the United Way, go to unitedwaysb.org.
By Gail Arnold