Every nook and cranny of the Fatima Family Center was filled with tables, raffle items, silent and live auction baskets and people during the annual Fatima Benefit Breakfast on Nov. 3. More than 300 people streamed into the facility on the grounds of St. Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima Parish at 6600 Lexington Avenue in Cleveland.
Fatima Family Center is celebrating its 45th year of serving the Hough community with programs for children, teens, adults and senior citizens. In a nod to that significant milestone, “Fulfilling the Legacy” was the theme of this year’s benefit. Harry Boomer, a neighborhood resident and reporter at WOIO Channel 19, was auctioneer for the silent auction.
Father Bob Marva, OFM, Cap, pastor of St. Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima Parish, was on hand to offer prayer and to help hand out the awards.
Attendees enjoyed a breakfast catered by Executive Caterers before the program.
LaJean Ray, Fatima Family Center director, said she was thrilled by the large number of attendees and raffle donations. She introduced Patrick Gareau, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, under whose auspices the center operates. She also introduced several public officials in the crowd, including Cleveland Ward 9 City Councilman Kevin Conwell, who once again provided the music with his band Footprints; Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones; Cuyahoga County District 7 Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell; Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams and other supporters.
“I’m so happy to be here — and happy 45th anniversary, Fatima Center,” Gareau said. “I’m not sure how to follow LaJean with all her energy and enthusiasm.” He announced that Fatima’s popular Silver Threads seniors’ program will be expanding in January from three days per week to four, as soon as details are finalized.
“This is truly a community coming together to raise money for a good cause,” Gareau said.
Ray said she appreciates the support the center receives from public officials, the business community, the police department and others. She said Yvonne Conwell helped arrange for every child in the summer camp program to receive a proclamation.
“And any time I need anything, all I have to do is ask,” she said, noting the police, city and county council members are ready to assist. She even pressed Gareau, Williams, the Conwells and others into service to help sell raffle tickets during the event.
Eight people were honored at the benefit: Sam Anderson; Catherine Dominic, age 90; Virginia Bynum, age 93; Walter Levell, age 94; Leatrice Kent; Delores Webster; Frances Butler and Clemetine Smith, age 93, who died earlier in the week. Most are members of the center’s Silver Threads.
Anderson, who recently retired from the Cleveland Police Department, was a strong presence in the Hough neighborhood for more than 30 years. Ray said he checked on the staff and seniors at Fatima Center daily. “He is faithful, compassionate and dedicated to the neighborhood and all its residents,” she said, adding he didn’t want any recognition. His daughters accepted his award on his behalf.
Yvonne Conwell, who helped present the awards, told the audience, “Embrace your neighbor. You never know if it’s your last day.”
A short video offering highlights of Fatima Center’s history was shown before the awards presentation and the auction. During the video, many who participated in Fatima programs over the years shared their memories of the center’s early years in the “blue building” before the new center opened. They also talked about how Fatima Center helped keep them focused and provided opportunities that otherwise might not have been possible. Family exposure trips to places like Washington, D.C., field trips, sports programs, meals, friendship and the summer camp program were among the things for children and families that earned praise. Fatima Center also has a fitness room, computer lab, arts program, teen leadership program, kids club, after-school program and a boutique where people can choose items they need.
Ray travelled to Washington, D.C. last spring where the center received the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award. Fatima Family Center also was named one of the top five family centers in the country.
Members of the center’s advisory council are Ray, Shelli Brooks, Keith Durand, Lovel Henderson, Lillie Johnston, Carolyn Watts-Allen, Father Marva, Carla Calhoun, Antoinette Smith, Cheryl Hutson-Law, Markietta Stevenson and Barry Withers. Stevenson is the council chairwoman and offered brief remarks at the event.
There were about two dozen auction items that included Cleveland Cavaliers tickets, Karamu ticket vouchers, gift certificates for downtown hotels, original artwork, weekly deliveries of fresh vegetables, Playhouse Square theater tickets and more.
Silent auction baskets included a lottery tree, museum membership, stuffed animals, Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers gear, artwork, a variety of gift certificates and gift cards, household items and more.
“We have an amazing staff and outstanding volunteers and we have benefited from a long list of leaders who have worked and prayed for our success,” Ray said.