07:54 AM

UHD's 40th Anniversary Gala Raises Over $420,000

Friday evening, nearly 450 people packed the Picasso Ballroom at the newly renovated JW Marriott Houston Downtown for UHD's 40th anniversary gala - an event that raised over $420,000.

Event Chairs Gilbert Garcia and Dr. Deanna Pena Garcia and Judge Clarease and Cary Yates spearheaded the sold-out fundraiser, Celebrating 40 Years: University of Houston-Downtown Gala, which featured a "wine pull" and silent art auction during the event's cocktail reception.

Guests were treated to a seated dinner, which included dancing to music by saxophonist/vocalist David Cacares and his band, a program emceed by KPRC's Khambrel Marshall and UHD President Dr. Bill Flores, with powerful supporting addresses by Houston Mayor Annise Parker and UH System Chancellor and UH President Dr. Renu Khator. Garcia also led a spirited "paddles up" program to raise money for student scholarships.

The highlights of the evening, however, were the testimonies of current UHD student Carlon Johnson and UHD alumna Maria Chavez-Berry. Both Johnson and Chavez-Berry shared their personal educational journeys, which included financial setbacks, family responsibilities and significant work experience while enrolled as UHD students.

Johnson grew up in a single parent home with his two brothers and worked full time while earning his degree. Because of scholarships his professors helped him earn, he will graduate debt free in fall 2015 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in accounting.

Chavez-Berry, a mother of four, is the first in her family to graduate from college, a process that took 10 years to complete. She praised the UHD social work faculty for giving her the skills and opportunities to succeed. Now a graduate student at UH's Graduate College of Social Work, she told gala attendees, "I speak to you today, not about my abilities, but about the efforts and dedication of the UHD professors who empowered me and gave me the confidence in myself to pursue my dream. These faculty believed in me when I did not believe in myself, and because of them, I gained the confidence I needed to earn a degree."

Flores reiterated her sentiments from the stage as he told the audience, "Each day, I meet a student who inspires me and I know their future is bright - as is Houston's - because of the education they received here at UHD."

Gala sponsors included: Grand Sponsor Wells Fargo; Siemens; Carol and Tommy Harper; Vicki Velarde; Roman Martinez/Yellow Cab; Andrews Kurth; Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation; Goya Foods; Schlumberger; and Karla and Greg Vesey.

Notable Houstonians in attendance included: Mayor Parker and Houston's First Lady Kathy Hubbard; UHD President Emeriti Max Castillo and Rosario Martinez Castillo; Dr. Noël Bezette-Flores; UHD Provost Ed Hugetz; Lone Star College System Chancellor Dr. Steve Head; Houston Community College Chancellor Dr. Cesar Maldonado; the Honorable Welcome Wilson Sr.; the Honorable Welcome Wilson Jr.; Captain S.Y. Kuo, representing Dr. Yung-Fa Chang; Central Houston's Bob Eury and Gayle Eury; Harry and Antje Gee; Kathryn and Jim Ketelsen; UH System Chancellor and UH President Renu Khator and Suresh Khator; State Rep. Sylvester Turner; Sheriff Adrian Garcia and Monica Garcia; the Honorable Roman Martinez and the Honorable Diana Martinez; current UH System Regents the Honorable Paula Mendoza, UHD alumna ('95) and Robert Mendoza; Lori Freese and Dan Zindler; Miya Shay and State Rep. Gene Wu; Edgar Colon; and Sylvia and Gordon Quan. UHD alumni Deltra ('00) and Gabriel Hayes; John Hernandez ('05); and Vicki Velarde ('12) and Ronnie Vinson also attended the gala.


Photos courtesy of Kim Coffman Photography.