She scraped the money together just so she would have enough cash to buy for the first time two Club 200 tickets for herself and her partner but Corrections Officer Leslie Sablan never expected to go home $15,000 richer.
“This is awesome!” Sablan exclaimed as she was handed her ceremonial check. Her ticket no. 0906 won her the grand prize at the American Red Cross-NMI Chapter's biggest annual fundraising event Saturday night at the Fiesta Resort & Spa in Garapan.
The sporadic rain did not put a damper on the estimated 1,200 guests who put on their boots, dressy jeans, and cowboy hats for the Way Out West-themed party for the benefit of the Red Cross.
Sablan, who was accompanied by her partner Mona Magofna at the event, said in an interview that she had already left the festivity when her winning ticket was drawn, hence her surprise when she received congratulatory greetings from the crowd.
“It's my first time to [buy tickets and attend Club 200.] I've always wanted to do it. Finally it came and I had enough money to do it,” Sablan, who was soaked from the heavy downpour, said in an interview.
“That was the blessing we had in return for dancing in the rain,” added Magofna.
A resident of Kagman, Sablan said she feels overwhelmed with her winnings, which would allow her to help her family. “I really know my family needs so much so I will share my prize money [with] them, my brother, my mother. I know my mother will be out of her mind. She would be so ecstatic!”
Sablan said her first-time to support the Red Cross fundraiser is significant for her and “really hits my heart,” being in the military and with the recent deaths among several service members from the CNMI.
“I told my partner, us being here is a contribution to them,” the 368th MP Company sergeant told Saipan Tribune, adding that she will use part of her prize money to send herself to military training in the mainland.
Sablan was among the several ticket buyers and Red Cross supporters who won big and exciting prize packages that included cold cash, airline tickets, hotel accommodations, lunch and dinner buffets, cellular phones, travel vouchers, appliances, and salon and spa treatments.
Besides the raffle, special prizes were also given away in the treasure chest promotion won by Malou Mendoza of Traders Insurance, Alfreda Camacho of IPS, and Chas Algaier of Marianas High School.
Organizers also hosted a costume contest won by couple Melinda and Alan Carrasco, who arrived in an old Western madam and gambler costumes, respectively. Meanwhile, DJ Davy G. took charge of the country song catalogue that blasted from the speakers that night and allowed couple Adam Hardwicke and Jenn Dockter to bag the Western dance contest.
Despite the heavy downpour, Saturday's crowd savored the hearty buffet and bottomless drinks and were in the mood to party all night as they also grooved to the music of the Japanese country group G GAP, which highlighted the night with a playlist that included a few of their original songs and music from Eagles and Creedence Clearwater Revival, among others.
Adding fun that night were the line dancers from Country House Restaurant as they shared the limelight with dozens of spectators.
Club 200 is now on its 24th year.
Red Cross awards
Red Cross also recognized several of its volunteers.
Anita Sablan, the Red Cross club adviser at Marianas High School, was acknowledged for her hard work, dedication, and commitment to the Red Cross and its humanitarian mission, as well as her active involvement in the club and empowering the youth to do community service.
Juan Lizama was recognized for his nine consecutive years on the Red Cross board and several years as an alternate in the board. Both Sablan and Lizama were not present to receive their awards.
A certificate of appreciation was also presented to Dean Oscillios, a disaster action team member, who was acknowledged for his exceptional service and dedication to the disaster services mission of Red Cross.
“Any chance he gets off from work, he's up volunteering when we call him,” said emergency services director Juan Diego Tenorio, describing Oscillios as “very skilled” and “very dedicated” in his Red Cross work.
Oscillios, who works at Joeten Superstore as the receiving department supervisor, said he began his volunteer work in 1997. “It feels good when you are able to help people who are in need,” he said in an interview. “Red Cross is like my second family and I'm surprised about this award.”
Red Cross also bestowed the Lifetime Honorary Board Member award to Jerry Facey, the “grandfather” of Red Cross, according to executive director John Hirsh.
A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Facey has had extensive Red Cross experience in various capacities but “his first love has been and always will be disaster response,” said Hirsh.
Hirsh said Facey has spent thousands of volunteer hours in an effort to help those in need, having responded to every major disaster in the CNMI in the last 25 years, even served as Red Cross responder during the 9/11 attacks in New York.
“Jerry personified the best that the Red Cross stands for,” Hirsh said. “He's caring, dedicated, and always willing to go the extra mile to meet those who are in need.”
Facey, whose full-time job is benefit adviser for the Prior Service Trust Fund, said in an interview that the time he spent with Red Cross has been a “satisfying and rewarding job.”
To become an effective volunteer, Facey said that one needs perseverance, willingness to take on responsibility, and most importantly, commitment. “If you're willing to make that commitment, we have the resources to support you to become a successful volunteer. Then you just enjoy the ride,” he added.
Red Cross officials and staff expressed gratitude for the community's support in their biggest fundraising event every year.
“Despite the horrific economy and despite the rainy and wet conditions, we had a whole bunch of people to support the Red Cross. We are here to support people in their time of need and our community came out and supported us,” said board chair John Guerrero.
For his part, Hirsh said the successful event proves that “volunteerism is very alive and well in our community.”
“That's what motivates me for my work, to see the people around me doing so much,” said Hirsh as he also thanked the Red Cross clubs from various public and private schools who assisted in selling the $10 treasure chest tickets.
“Given our economic climate, it's tough on families. But I think our families do realize that they have to support organizations that in the end would help them. We saw that tonight,” he added.
Hirsh said the raffle draw winners will be contacted by their office in the coming days after verification of ticket numbers.