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Gala raises $78K for Avera's cancer care fund

A night "full of dancing" brought Avera Queen of Peace funds to help both the Mitchell community and surrounding region for years.

The fourth annual Avera Gala, with a theme of Red Carpet Country this year, raised more than $78,000, according to Molly Sutton, the foundation director for Avera Queen of Peace, on Wednesday. Each year, the gala raises money for specific programming within the Avera organization. This year, the funds went to the Cancer Care Fund and Cancer Screening Program. The Avera Queen of Peace Foundation and Avera Cancer Institute Mitchell have been coordinating on community-wide cancer screening since 2001, Sutton said. And between 2013 and 2017, the program provided 783 free screenings.

But while a majority of the 220 people in attendance at the gala were on the dance floor, many pulled out their checkbooks. And the money raised, Sutton said, is going to help expand the screening program, allowing for more screenings in April, beginning with skin and mammography screenings, Sutton said. Prior to this, the Cancer Screening Program held one-day screening events to monthlong opportunities. But in April, the expansion will allow for free screenings throughout the year to patients that fit the criteria, Sutton said.

"Sometimes we're raising money for a piece of equipment, and sometimes we're putting money into programming. The best part about that is, the equipment is able to help so many people. The programs have such a wide range," Sutton said. "We have people coming in from all over the Avera Queen of Peace region."

The gala serves as a time for the community and donors to see what Avera is working on, as well as give an update on programs, Sutton said.

And in the four years of the gala, Sutton said a total of $314,325 has been raised, all of it going directly into programs and purchasing equipment for not just Mitchell, but the region — specifically the rural areas served by Avera Queen of Peace.

"It's really important to us to provide quality health care and that's what the foundation's programs really go toward," Sutton said. "We make sure everybody has access to the best possible health care."

Tom Clark, Avera Queen of Peace Regional President and CEO, credits the organization's foundation for its continued efforts in supporting the region's health care needs. It's through events like the gala, that the community can see the direct impact of individual donations.

"The Avera Queen of Peace Foundation is an asset to our hospital and clinics within the region, working continuously to further our mission of providing quality health care services while supporting our goals and finding solutions for community needs," Clark said. "We are very grateful for the generosity of our Foundation donors so that we are able to cover health care gaps and help ensure community needs are met."

Sutton said the gala takes about six to eight months to plan, and even though this year's event occurred just over a month ago, Sutton and her 10-person committee are already looking ahead to next year.

Next year will mark the fifth annual gala, and Sutton said there are some big plans in the works. The theme will be Havana Nights, but that's as far as she'll say. There will be some other changes to the event next year, but Sutton is determined to keep it secret.

"Next year is our fifth year and we're already looking forward to it," Sutton said. "We've got some big ideas. Our events are really anticipated within community and we're looking forward to doing some things a little different, but it will remain a surprise."