by Carol Cowdrey
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — When Neil and Fran Douthat were asked to serve as presidents of the 45th annual Snow Ball benefiting Catholic Charities Foundation of Northeast Kansas, they hesitated.
The Snow Ball, set for Jan. 19 at the Overland Park Convention Center, is among the largest charitable galas around, attracting over 2,000 attendees. More importantly, it is an event that greatly impacts the lives of families in need — giving not only help and opportunity, but hope.
“We were humbled at the prospect of leading [the] Snow Ball and representing such an awesome and vast organization as Catholic Charities,” said Fran, a parishioner at St. Ann Church, Prairie Village.
Although they believed strongly in the mission of Catholic Charities, and knew they could serve with conviction, there was still something to consider. While Catholic Charities provides services to people of all faiths, Neil would be the first non-Catholic to serve as Snow Ball co-president.
“After much reflection and prayer, we concluded that this role afforded us the privilege of spreading the good news of all that Catholic Charities does, both within the Catholic community and in the community at large,” explained Neil.
This role was especially meaningful for Fran. Her parents, Daniel and Barbara Watkins, were Snow Ball presidents in 1986 and 1987. They raised 14 children — something not done casually or without discipline. There were tight budgets, full schedules, endless chores and a scarcity of “free time.”
No matter what, her parents lived their lives full of purpose and productivity — and expected the same of their children.
She remembers their excitement to be part of a greater purpose, and a drive to make the Snow Ball a success.
“An event, such as [the] Snow Ball, that married celebration with purpose, was really tailor-made for them,” said Fran.
As it is proving to be for the Douthats, who have attended the Snow Ball together for the last 15 years.
Unlike most galas, Snow Ball funds are raised prior to the event. There is no formal ask that evening.
“The event is what we feel all galas should be — a celebration of all of the good will, generosity and dedication of the many thousands of people who make it possible for Catholic Charities to continue to serve our brothers and sisters in need,” said Fran.
A vast network of dedicated individuals make up the Snow Ball patron and table committees. With the support of Catholic Charities staff, they work hard year-round to make the event a success.
“They demonstrate a true and apparent passion for serving their fellow man,” said Neil. “For anyone who has had the opportunity to see any of them in action, or even just see their dedication, it is hard not to support them.”
For the Douthats, serving as Snow Ball presidents has been rewarding. There have been a record number of pre-event parties hosted and attended by supporters, including one for the first time in Atchison.
Also, more than 150 attended the Snow Flake happy hour aimed at younger supporters.
“For us, raising awareness that Catholic Charities serves anyone in need, Catholic or not, is just as important as the fundraising,” said Fran. “Also, we hope for a greater understanding of the breadth and depth of services that the organization offers — from birth (adoption) to death (hospice), and everything in between.”
For Neil, the experience has impacted him in an unexpected way.
“It was so impressive to me to learn that our own Catholic Charities resettles hundreds of refugees each year — most all from far away countries, and almost being non-Catholic,” he said. “It made me want to help by serving as a refugee program volunteer, which has been more rewarding than words can express.”
As it grows near, the Douthats are thankful they accepted their role as Snow Ball presidents.
“Many people think our level of involvement must be burdensome, but it most certainly is not,” said Fran. “It is a labor of love for the least among us.”