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Joyful Heart's Fourth Annual Gala: HOW WILL YOU JOIN?
On May 17, 2011, hundreds of supporters of the Joyful Heart Foundation gathered for an evening of celebration, of hope and of spirit at the Fourth Annual Joyful Heart Gala at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. At this year’s Gala, we asked the question “How Will You Join the Joyful Revolution?”
In 2009, at Joyful Heart’s Second Annual Gala, the Joyful Revolution was born: a movement of our collective vision for a community that collaboratively ends the cycle of violence and abuse by turning toward the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. At last year’s Gala, the Revolution Continued as we honored the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which changed the way violent crimes against women are prosecuted and prevented. And this year, we celebrated how far our Joyful Revolution has come and looked to the years ahead by asking How Will You Join?
The collective sense of the joy and commitment of our community was palpable from the moment the evening’s guests stepped onto the red carpet. Joyful Heart’s Founder and President Mariska Hargitay and her husband, founding Board Member Peter Hermann, greeted the fearless supporters who have given so much of themselves to our cause: Hilary Swank, Brian Williams, Christopher and Sherman Meloni, Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Mario Batali, Marcia Gay Harden, Isaac Mizrahi, Tamara Tuni, Robin Renzi, Rose Kirk, Detective Deirdri Fisheland, the incredible Board of Directors of the Joyful Heart Foundation, members of our Los Angeles and Hawai‘i Committees and the Hawai‘i Hearts, and of course, the evening’s visionary honoree, Dr. Neal Baer, the long-time Executive Producer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
After cocktails and the letter-writing campaign, guests were drawn to the dining area and stage on the first floor by a cacophony of an 8-member drum troop. As guests made their way to their seats, musical shakers awaited each person—another way to join and make noise that night. After the thundering percussion finally came to a hush, news anchor Brian Williams and actor Alec Baldwin, both devoted friends of Joyful Heart and Mariska Hargitay, began the evening’s program, a large portion of which was devoted to celebrating the evening’s revolutionary honoree, Dr. Neal Baer.
Dr. Baer is the prolific and visionary former executive producer of Law & Order: SVU of 11 years, friend of Mariska for even longer and a founding Board Member of the Joyful Heart Foundation. We honored his long career with SVU, his unmatched ability to tell the stories of survivors with compassion and hope and, of course, the result of this work that has shed so much light into the darkness surrounding sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse for more than a decade. As Mariska noted in her tribute to Dr. Baer:
When SVU started airing, survivors from across the country began writing to me, disclosing their stories of rape, assault, and abuse. In Detective Olivia Benson they heard an advocate—literally a person calling out on their behalf. And yes, Olivia’s heart is mine, but her words were Neal’s. So many survivors’ journeys of healing have their beginning with you sitting at your desk, writing.
At last year’s Gala, Dr. Baer listened as a woman named Helena told her story about her rape kit that had been stuck in Los Angeles’s backlog for over a decade. She had lived in fear that her rapist was still on the streets, able to find her using the driver’s license he had taken during her assault. When her kit was eventually tested, the evidence linked to a serial rapist.
As Helena told her story, Dr. Baer took notes on his dinner napkin. These notes would become the storyline to SVU Season 12, Episode 3, “Behave” based on Helena’s story, which guest starred Jennifer Love Hewitt and aired September 28, 2010 in over 15 million homes, launching a national dialogue on the backlog of untested rape kits.
Dr. Baer’s vision and storytelling have awakened a revolution in the hearts of millions, but there are countless ways to grow and join the revolution to realize our vision of ending violence and abuse. As Maile Zambuto, Chief Executive Officer of the Joyful Heart Foundation, said in her remarks:
Tonight we shine a light on Joyful Heart’s expanded vision—ending violence against women and children. Yes, ending it. Maybe not in our lifetime, but when I look out into this room and I see how much our revolution has grown in so short a time, I am convinced it is foolish to imagine limits on what we can do.
Every night, before I go to bed, I log onto the Joyful Heart Facebook page. Often I find survivors—so desperate to be heard and seen—disclosing their stories of abuse, many for the first time. And then I witness our community, over 50,000 strong, responding in the most compassionate ways.
We ask you to join those 50,000. Add your voice. We welcome and celebrate every kind of effort, commitment and idea—big and small.
Following Maile’s remarks, person after person—35 in total—took to the stage in a Joyful Parade to share the ways they turned toward the issues of violence and abuse, shed light into the darkness surrounding them, survived themselves or helped someone else survive.
I talked to my sons about respect.
I reported my neighbor to the police after hearing him beat his wife and kids.
I asked a co-worker if she felt safe in her home. And then I asked her again.
I broke the cycle of abuse in my family.
I reported my rape.
I hosted a fundraiser in my hometown.
I had the crazy idea to start a foundation.
As dessert was served, guests had the thrill of hearing two incredible performances by rock legends Counting Crows and Patti Smith. Counting Crows treated the crowd to an entrancing set of their soulful hits. Patti Smith followed with acoustic renditions of her classics, altering the lyrics to one song to express her outrage over the rape kit backlog in Detroit, Michigan, and summing up the spirit of the night perfectly in her last song, “Because the Night.” As Mariska closed the program, she raised her hands in amazement of the evening with tears of joy in her eyes, speechless except to echo Patti’s famous lyrics, "because the night belongs to love. Because the night belongs to us."
Joyful Heart is incredibly grateful to the individuals and sponsors who made the evening possible: the Fourth Annual Gala’s fearless co-chairs, Christina Carlino, Alex Cohen, Lorraine Kirke, Sukey Novogratz, Lisa Paulsen, Molly Mickler and Carrie Shumway; dinner chairs Chris and Sherman Meloni, Ali Wentworth and George Stephanopolous; gracious dinner hosts Maria Bello and Hilary Swank; and generous sponsors Wolf Films, the Entertainment Industry Foundation, Alexandra and Steven Cohen, The Art of Grace, Lorraine and Simon Kirke, Sukey and Mike Novogratz, Carrie and Chris Shumway, Molly Micker Smith, the Verizon Foundation, Liz Claiborne Inc, Nancy Ellison and Bill Rollnick, and Ashley and Jeff McDermott; and the incredible art and design of David Stark Productions. Such a revolutionary and inspiring event would not be possible without your gifts of spirit, commitment, compassion and creativity.