An evening in the tropics benefits Mental Health Walk-In Center

VERO BEACH — Guests truly felt as if they had been transported to the islands at A Tropical Night in Martinique, as palm trees swayed from gentle ocean breezes and the melodic sounds of steel drums welcomed them to the Caribbean Court Boutique Hotel for the annual Mental Health Association (MHA) fundraiser to benefit the Mental Health Walk-In Center. Owner Boris Gonzalez generously donated the use of his verdant tropical enclave for the evening, opening up the Maison Martinique Restaurant and lovely poolside courtyard for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.  Like vibrant butterflies, guests arrived shimmering in tropically colored silks and satins, rivaled only by bright splashes of color from dazzling bougainvillea vines.

“It’s the first time we’ve tried something like this.  We always try to shake it up; to make each event a little different so it stands out,” said Kris Sarkauskas, Mental Health Association President and CEO, who noted that proceeds were earmarked for the Walk-In Center.

“It’s the only place where people can get immediate access to mental health treatment,” said Sarkauskas.  “There has been a 50 percent increase in patients needing assistance with this economic downturn.  The people who support us here tonight make us strong and help us to help others.  We couldn’t do it without them.”

Gorgeous TurtleTrax sculptures continue to be hugely popular and are always a mainstay auction item at Mental Health Association events.  This year, talented local artists had magnificently designed and painted three garden-sized and 10 tabletop turtles.

One active bidding war surrounded a garden-sized Florida Gator turtle, wearing the jersey of Heisman Trophy winner Tebow.

Originally from England, artist Elizabeth Bond admitted she knew little about the team.

“It was entirely our son Jonathan who said to paint the turtle as a footballer,” said Bond.  “He said, “We’re in Florida, so make it a Gator.””

The event was co-chaired by Nancy Ofstie and Ellen Collins, and the Grand Benefactor was philanthropist Barbara Hurley, in memory of her parents Lillian and Richard Becker.

Like many others supporting the organization, Ofstie has a family member with mental health issues.

“I got involved after the first big TurtleTrax fundraiser, and joined the board the board the next year,” said Ofstie who serves as board vice chair.  “I’ve been deeply immersed ever since; it’s a great organization.  The turtles gave us the initial funding for the Walk-In Center and we’ve been able to provide care to those who need it.  It’s a huge community collaborative effort.”

Patti Nugent, MHA Director of Development gave particular thanks and recognition to Gonzalez for the use of his lovely facility.

“He closed down the restaurant for this and has done everything possible to help us with the event. He made this happen,” said Nugent.  “He also owns Gonzalez Recovery Residences in Indian River County and Virginia, and provides them with work here when they come out of recovery. He’s just 100 percent into giving.”

As guests moved into an unexpected dining area, the seemingly impossible had taken place, with large tents in the parking lot possessing not only dinner tables, but a dance floor, bandstand and staging area for Chef Posener Lorius and Elizabeth Kennedy to work their magic.  The tropical island décor continued within the tent, where William Bainbridge Steele had decorated tables in shades of orange and lime sherbet, set off by bright white dinnerware.

Guests dined by the soft glow of candlelight on a surf and turf combination of filet of beef and pan seared Diver Sea scallops.  Working off a few calories before the tempting dessert buffet, they later enjoyed dancing to Gary Roland and the Landsharks Band.

The Walk-In Center opened its doors in 2007 and has since assisted more than 3,000 individuals and their families.  The Center will host an open house on Friday, April 1 for anyone wanting additional information about its services. {igallery 352}

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