By REBECCA SCHWAB
OBSERVER Staff Writer
This may end up being its 10th and final year, but event organizer Sara Dorogi and her gang of happy helpers will make sure the 2013 "Kiss Me Anew" Valentine's Day Gala goes out with a bang.
The KMA charity event will once again be held at the Clarion Hotel in Dunkirk on Feb. 9, beginning at 9:30 p.m. All proceeds from the 21-and-over party will go to the Salvation Army's Anew Center, an agency that provides advocacy, counseling, and support services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in Chautauqua County.
Dorogi, a former Brocton resident and KMA's founder and organizer, describes the event:
"The KMA benefit is unique in that it gives people a chance to come out and enjoy the festivities regardless of their relationship status, forget about whatever might be bothering them emotionally, and to just have fun, all while contributing to a worthwhile cause," she explains.
'Kiss Me Anew' Valentine's Day Gala
Why: To benefit the Salvation Army Anew Center, which assists domestic violence and sexual assault victims
When: Saturday, Feb. 9, 9:30 p.m.
Where: Bayside Ballroom, Clarion Hotel, Dunkirk
A few of the event's many highlights include a visit from the Sweet Revenge Girls, who will be handing out samples of "sweet sour mash;" a Chinese auction with Valentine's-themed baskets; door prizes throughout the night including a Black Widow basket; a spectacular cake, courtesy of Kathy Restivo of Cakelicious; and the Chautauqua County Roller Derby's Babes of Wrath, who will be wheeling around selling 50/50 tickets, T-shirts, and buttons. Partygoers can also pick up their Babes of Wrath league cards and get their pictures taken with their favorite Derby ladies.
The story of how this sassy, vibrant event got started is equally colorful. It began as a divorce party for two of Dorogi's close friends.
"The party started in 2004 with a core group of girlfriends, two of whom happened to have just experienced painful divorces. We all pitched in to throw a 'divorce party,' ironically enough around Valentine's Day. It was dubbed the 'Kiss My A**' party. With the help of about 50 friends and family members it turned into a celebration, to try and forget the past, acknowledge the present, and look forward to the future," Dorogi says.
Originally, the party was held at the local Days Inn, where one of Dorogi's friends bartended and the "KMA shot" was invented. In 2008, that friend was hired by the Clarion, and since the party had grown every year, Dorogi moved the festivities there as well, where she eventually had to rent the opulent Bayside Ballroom to accommodate all the partygoers. As an added bonus to the beautiful lakeside location, the Clarion is generously offering a special room rate so that KMA attendees can party safely - $75.99 plus tax. Partygoers just need to call the hotel at 366-8350 and mention "Kiss Me Anew" when they make reservations. And if people do need to get back home, A-Cab will be available to provide them with safe rides.
Valentine's Day, a holiday that is cursed by singles as much as it may be loved by couples, seemed to be the perfect time for Dorogi to hold this party.
"(KMA's) original intent was to help the single, broken-hearted, divorced or just plain lonely people make it through the often-times dreaded Valentine's Day," she says. But, "It's grown over the years to attract people from all walks of life, and in all varying degrees of relationships."
Much of the event's growth is due to poster artist and professional media consultant Chris Wysard, whom Dorogi met in 2009. Wysard used his talent to professionally market the party, incorporating Dorogi's love for pin-up art into the campaign.
"I've always been a fan of vintage pin-ups or 'glamour art,' which captures and celebrates the femininity of American women," Dorogi says. "The first KMA poster using this theme was in 2009, in which (Wysard) re-created a Peter Driben work. We use three different versions of each year's poster and we jokingly refer to them in movie rating terms: G, PG, and R, because the event is known to different people either as 'Kiss Me Anew,' 'KMA Bash,' or the 'Kiss My A** Bash.'"
Dorogi gets more help from friend Glen Hurrel, who is in charge of actually getting those beautiful posters out to the public.
"My role for the last couple of years has been to promote the party," Hurrel says. "I go around and put up signs and talk to people to get the word out. I put up posters in (the Dunkirk/Fredonia) area here and Jamestown and as far as the Native American Reservation in the other direction, then up and down Route 20. I try to get people to give me some window space to draw attention to the KMA party."
In addition to the bash's artful poster campaigns, Dorogi credits Wysard with KMA's charitable element. It was through his connections with people he knew in Jamestown that Dorogi found out about the Anew Center, and the wonderful, life-saving work the counselors and staff do there. Turning the post-divorce party into a charity event for the Anew Center, along with changing the name of the party, seemed like a natural evolution.
"The symbol of Anew, which is a butterfly, can be symbolic to a new start, or a new beginning, which many of us are forced to take, when rejected, mistreated, or abused," Dorogi explains. "These elements combined suggest the importance of women making the choice to overcome whatever problems they may face, whether it's heartbreak or abuse, family trouble or financial hardship. We should all strive to become self-assured, independent, confident, and empowered so that 'a new,' more positive, life can be achieved."
And the effects of Dorogi's benefit are far-reaching, assured Anew Center Shelter Manager Diana Butcher. Not only does the KMA party raise much-needed funds, but Dorogi actually invites Butcher and other Anew Center staff to the party, where they are on-hand to answer questions about the services and programs offered by the center, and to hand out information to anyone interested.
One of the Anew Center's major hurdles, explains Butcher, is that people don't know about their programs; that they're free and confidential, and that counselors are on hand 24 hours a day.
"I think a lot of people don't know we exist, which is surprising because we've been around for a long time," she says.
Originally, the Anew Center was called The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Program. They started in Jamestown with two case managers and helped their first family on Christmas Eve in 1985. Since then they've grown tremendously, and have added children's programs and community education programs. They changed their name to "The Anew Center" because it sounds more positive, and because it does a better job of describing what Butcher and her staff do for people: they help victims of abuse and assault start their lives again. They now have four full-time case managers and a satellite office in Dunkirk, in the Salvation Army building on Central Avenue. They have a residential program with 13 beds and a non-residential program with weekly counseling sessions. Anyone can call their hotline at 1-800-252-8748 or 661-3897, which is staffed 24 hours a day by licensed crisis counselors who can provide assistance and information about domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, safety planning, counseling, and all other services. In addition, The Anew Center is always on call to respond to crisis situations in all four of the county's hospitals.
One of the programs that Dorogi is particularly interested in raising funds for is The Anew Center's Children and Family Outreach Program (CFOP), which offers group and individual counseling services for children 4 to 18 years of age who have been victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. One of their many services is to provide in-home counseling for families to help them interact and reintegrate after abuse or trauma has taken place. Currently, 58 children are receiving services. The Anew Center also goes into area schools and community buildings with curriculums on education and prevention, providing information about available services, domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment awareness and prevention, risk reduction, teen dating violence and other important topics.
"This is a societal problem," Butcher explains, "and we need more people to know about it. It takes a community to address and resolve these issues, and prevention is the key and community education is the main component to that."
But, like so many worthy programs, The Anew Center depends on grants and the community's generosity to remain operational and to keep providing services to their clients. And, sadly, need always surpasses resources.
"The children's program is really in need of donations," Butcher says. "(Dorogi) reached out to us and we're so grateful to her. She has been very conscientious about prevention and knows starting early is important. She cares about the children; child victims are so important. It boggles my mind that we search so hard to find money for these kids. It is so wonderful that (Dorogi) donates these funds to us and tells us to put the money where it's needed."
Although their children's program is important, Butcher makes it clear that anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault.
"It's any age group, any socio-economic group, any race," Butcher explained. "Violence doesn't pick and choose. Most of the people we shelter fit into two categories: one is they're high risk and they can't stay in their homes, because they're in danger there, and the other is that they have limited resources. Imagine if you had to leave your home and everything you owned because the place isn't safe. We've provided services for professional people all the way across the board, and I've dealt with victims from 9 months old to 90 years old."
Dorogi's Kiss Me Anew party will help these victims by raising funds for programs and getting the word out about The Anew Center and the services they provide - all in a fun-filled atmosphere with great food, drinks, and live music from Buffalo's well-known rock band, Black Widow.
"I don't know if people realize how much they're doing (for The Anew Center) or if they're just coming out to have a good time," Hurrel mused. "This is cabin fever time. It's a great time to go out. People can come to the party with friends or a significant other or alone. It's just a chance to get out and have fun."
In addition to Black Widow, the Sweet Revenge Girls, and the Chinese Auction, this year's KMA Bash will feature "Cupid Coat Check," with every dollar from each coat checked going to the Anew Center.
This year's KMA event will be a can't-miss night, since, as both Dorogi and Hurrel explained, it may be the last.
"While (the KMA event) has certainly has been a lot of fun the past nine years, and I'm proud of what the party has become, having the position of benefit organizer, promoter, and marketer all rolled into one is a lot of work," Dorogi says. "If I could find some way to renew or reinvent the event, maybe with the help of a private sponsor, then I'd certainly consider it in the future. But for now, even though in my heart, I don't want to give it up, my mind is telling me that it's time."
Dorogi expressed her appreciation for all of the people who have shown loyalty to the event, returning every year whether they're single or not; her friends and family; The Anew Center for the work they do; Glen Hurrel for his treks across Chautauqua County, posters in hand; the businesses who have sponsored the event, including those that have donated funds or items for raffles and food items; Copy Boy Instant Printing in Fredonia for their help with posters; the Clarion Hotel for their accommodations; friend and helper Richelle Easterly; and Wysard, who has been instrumental in making the event a success for the past several years.
There are still many ways community members can help Dorogi and her crew with the KMA Valentine's Day Gala. Monetary donations are needed, as well as items or certificates from local businesses for the Chinese auction. Local restaurants or grocery stores can donate food for the party. Every penny Dorogi doesn't have to spend on the event goes straight to The Anew Center. And of course, attendance is important. Tickets are $10 for a night of great food and live music, and all proceeds go toward helping victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault right here in Chautauqua County. To donate, call 672-9116.
"Come celebrate our 10th year!" Dorogi says. "The KMA Bash is a fun-filled 'benefit with sass,' featuring rock and roll, flair, friends, glamour and a chance to meet someone new!"
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