Saturday night was our annual Operation Kids Lifetime Achievement Award Gala. We try to put together an evening each year that is part celebration, part focus on the issues. And all for the sake of the charities for which we are raising funds.
This year’s gala was spectacular. We could not have asked for a better group of people to help us celebrate the more than 25 years John Walsh has spent pursuing justice and safety for children.
Nor could we have honored a person more deserving of this tribute than John Walsh. It was not difficult to see why he has made such a difference in the world – he is full of humility and compassion and a spark of passion that drives him to do what is best, although surely isn’t easy.
The evening, hosted by actor Dennis Haysbert, began with jazz singer Anna Wilson singing the song she wrote for Habitat For Humanity, “A House, A Home.” Given the evening’s focus on children’s safety, the song took on a whole new meaning. She was joined by her husband, songwriter Monty Powell, for a couple of numbers that got the evening off to a great start.
The tribute to John Walsh was fitting and emotional. There was a line in it that talked about John’s desire that is son Adam’s death not be in vain. After listening to the tributes, I think it’s safe to say that Adam’s death was definitely not in vain. A harrowing, awful tragedy resulted in thousands of positive changes in the world over the last 27 years. John has done an amazing job of taking his anger and grief and channeling it into positive results for the entire nation.
Several guests joined us to give tribute to John and to raise awareness around children’s safety: Daniel J. Travanti, who played John in the 1983 NBC Movie Adam, spoke of how he first met John and the admiration he has for him. Scott McKane, host of Fox 13’s Utah’s Most Wanted, Mark Shurtleff, Utah’s Attorney General and Senator Orrin Hatch also gave moving tributes.
The evening was capped off by John’s remarkable acceptance speech – off the cuff and perfectly polished.
What followed was the “fun” element of the evening – a 45-minute concert headlined by Collin Raye, featuring Jim Brickman and Susan Ashton. The emotional evening was brought to new heights listening to Collin and Susan’s duet singing Jim’s song, “The Gift.”
What is most, important, however is that even in a topsy-turvy economy, there are still some incredibly generous people out there. It was with great excitement that we were able to present checks totaling $850,000 to three very deserving charities focusing on children’s safety:
- National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)
- National McGruff Safehouse
- Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce (ICAC)
We are confident these gifts will help these organizations make an even bigger impact in the world. We also hope that those guests in attendance Saturday night will realize what an enormous challenge this is to solve – and yet it is one where each of us can have a definitively measurable impact.
We left the hotel Saturday night feeling renewed regarding the generosity of spirit and commitment, the genuine good will of those celebrities who helped us produce a fitting tribute to John and the feeling that there is a lot of good in this world.
I ask you now – if you could nominate someone for his or her lifetime of achievements regarding children’s causes, who would it be?