A Memorable Evening Among the Stars

Posted on July 21, 2021

Steph Aspey with her brother, Shawn

Steph Aspey & her brother, Shawn Brammer.

By Stephanie Aspey, Penn-Mar Gala Auction Chair

The 29th Annual Penn-Mar Gala & 40th Anniversary Celebration held June 5th was truly one for the record books.

Because of pandemic safety issues, we were restricted to having only 330 guests in attendance – as opposed to our usual crowd of 600 – and we held the entire event under an outdoor tent.

So what made our “An Evening Among The Stars” such a memorable event?

Well, for starters, it was the fact that we were even able to hold the Gala during a worldwide pandemic and because of two historic “firsts” that happened that evening . . .

For the first time we publicly honored Penn-Mar’s Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), Residential Supervisors and Program Managers for courageously coming alongside people with disabilities to keep them safe, and to help them understand and cope with quarantining, social distancing and countless other disruptions during the past 15 months. Their courage, dedication and resilience earned them the organization’s prestigious annual Impact Award.

Another first was reaching our Special Appeal goal during the Gala – over $150,000 raised — in only a matter of minutes! That funding will go a long way to ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their loved ones, and their remarkable DSPs will receive the supports they need.

For Wendy Gallo, the Gala Chair, and myself, witnessing this achievement from the back of the tent was truly the most exciting moment of the evening.

It was a night few who were there will forget, given the extraordinary heat, and the presence of this years’ uninvited guest — cicadas, literally thousands of them!

That said, we still raised $705,000 that evening (vs. $775,000 last year) with literally half the attendees, the support of our generous Sponsors and some 200 “Party in Place” Ambassadors who hosted donor events at their homes, and the success of the live and silent auctions.

Our family has benefitted directly from Penn-Mar’s mission and it has been an honor and a pleasure for me to be a volunteer on the Gala Committee since 2005. 

My father was a quadriplegic, yet I only saw him cry three times during our life together. One of those times was when he realized he could no longer adequately care for his son Shawn and made the heart wrenching decision to send him to Penn-Mar at the age of 22 to live in a community home. That was 25 years ago and they have truly been the happiest years of Shawn’s life.

Naturally, the adjustment was very hard for him; change is especially hard for people with disabilities. Fortunately, Shawn had the constancy of two particular DSPs in the quarter century he has been with Penn-Mar. DSPs Michael Riedel (23 years) and Kellie Spies (20 years) are the two main reasons why Shawn is so happy and content with his life today.

This need for support consistency from the DSPs is what makes the Gala Special Appeal each year so important to the people giving and receiving Penn-Mar’s extraordinary services.

Penn-Mar has given my brother opportunities that we could never have provided for him on our own. He has friends, enjoys outings in the communities, has been on island cruises, and from many years of participating in the Day Program, has developed a love for painting and creating artwork.

His life at Penn-Mar has been so enriching.  When he visits with us, he always tells us when he is ready to go “home.” His home at Penn-Mar.

Thank you Penn-Mar for giving our family peace of mind, knowing that our brother is so well cared for.

And a special thanks to all of the donors, partners and friends who have invested in the Penn-Mar mission!