Friday’s ‘Fiesta’ fundraiser to help combat violence against women

By Sharon Wittke

At the 12th annual “Taste of Chocolate” gala Friday night, chocolate aficionados will sample tasty treats donated by local restaurants and bakeries while they bid on art, gift baskets and wines at live and silent auctions.

The annual social event, sponsored by the Women’s Center, will be held at the Carbondale Civic Center at 6 p.m. on Feb. 3.

This year’s fundraiser, “Fiesta,” may sound like an upbeat affair, but its purpose is serious—to raise money to combat domestic violence and sexual assault.


The Women’s Center depends on the funds raised at the Taste of Chocolate event, which generated $12,000 last year, and its more than 100 well-trained volunteers to keep its shelter for domestic abuse victims open and its sexual assault crisis hotline manned around the clock.

Sandra Ursini, the center’s development specialist, said despite the cutbacks, the center continues to serve a seven-county region.

This year the center faced a 10 percent cut in its budget because of reduced state and federal funding. Although the center’s administration had to trim staff work hours, it was still able to meet its top priority of keeping the shelter open 24 hours a day, she said.

“We couldn’t do it without the support of the people in our community. The community is very good to us,” Ursini said.

She said an example of that support was when Kay Dosier, the owner of 1187 Creative Graphics Company in Carbondale, decided six years ago that she and some of her friends wanted to help support the Women’s Center.

They created and organized the Little Black Dress Party, an annual “women’s night out” gala held in September. The event is independently sponsored by Dosier and others, and proceeds from ticket sales are donated to the Women’s Center.

Last September, the fifth annual Little Black Dress Party was held at Walker’s Bluff in Carterville.


“There were 2,000 women in little black dresses and heels. It was amazing,” Ursini said.  “The event raised $60,000 for the Women’s Center.”

As the center’s fundraising director, Ursini said she is continually challenged. While events such as the Taste of Chocolate serve to elevate awareness about the organization as well as raise money, they require many staff and volunteer hours to produce.

Last year, she initiated a donation program called “Hope for 919” that can be managed using fewer staff members and volunteers.

Ursini said the number 919 represents the number of women and children served by the center’s domestic violence program in fiscal year 2010. To commemorate that number, she is seeking 919 people who will donate $100 each to build an endowment fund that could be used to fund future projects.

In addition to donations from the community, the center has always relied heavily on volunteers to provide administrative and counseling services throughout its nearly 40-year history, Ursini said.

E. Wilson, the center’s volunteer coordinator, holds training sessions three times each year. She said all volunteers and newly hired staff are required to attend 68 hours of training before they can work in the counseling programs.

At the training session that began Monday, one of the organization’s founding members, Joyce Webb, addressed the class of about 30 people. She said 40 years ago, society viewed violence against women differently than it does today.

“In 1971, violence against women was never reported in the newspapers and nothing was ever done about it,” she said.

Lissa Lim, a doctorate student from San Diego in counseling and psychology, said she looks forward to volunteering her time and expertise after she completes the training program.

“I want to be a volunteer here,” she said. “This issue is very important.”