New Orleans flair, fashion and food return to downtown Culpeper next Saturday night at the area’s hottest benefit ball in support of critical services that are keeping friends and neighbors safe.

“Don’t Hide Behind the Mask” is the theme for the 2nd Annual Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball for Services to Abused Families. The black tie optional, mask mandatory gala takes place 7 to 11 p.m. Feb. 22 in the chandeliered Culpeper Center, 137 S. Main St. Get tickets and sponsorship information at safejourneys.org. Tickets include a mask and one drink coin.

Organizers Kiley Doll—SAFE treasurer—and Jamie Clancey, SAFE president, along with SAFE Director Cindy Hedges and volunteer Rita Nickle recently met at the nonprofit group’s headquarters in downtown Culpeper to talk about the ritzy, worthy event, and what it supports.

The inaugural ball last year sold out, generating $27,000 for the group’s mission of providing free and confidential services around the clock to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, said Doll.

Founded in 1980 by a few concerned Culpeper citizens, SAFE is Action Alliance-accredited and operates in Culpeper, Fauquier, Orange, Madison and Rappahannock counties. SAFE support is given regardless of age, race, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity or faith.

The organization operates several area shelters, including one it recently opened with a barn, which will allow survivors to bring their pets with them. In spite of its growth, the SAFE annual budget has not increased, said Hedges. That’s why support for the Masquerade Ball is so important —not to mention it’s going to be a jazzy time.

Featuring New Orleans-style food by the region’s finest chefs and a night of music by DJ Havier, the ball will be a lovely end to next Saturday’s Mardi Gras Carnival of Culpeper Renaissance, Inc. Carnival will include activities and programs all over town in addition to art, drama, music, magic and the flavor of Culpeper, Louisiana-style. See http://www.culpeperdowntown.com/carnival.html for information.

“We really appreciate CRI allowing us to end their day with this night,” Hedges said. “It wouldn’t be what it was without their day. Don’t let the fun stop when the sun goes down!”

Around 150 people packed the dance floor at last year’s evening ball held at The Refinery. This year’s venue in the main room at the art deco-style Culpeper Center is larger, allowing for more attendees.

“Last year, day of, people were still trying to get tickets,” Doll said. “We were floored!”

The Center’s on-site restaurant chef from Flavor on Main will be among local food experts providing the fare that will also include empanadas and a specialty rum-infused Hurricane cocktail by Old House Vineyards. There will be tastes of seafood gumbo, sliders, shrimp, dirty rice, mini cupcakes and bread pudding.

A live auctioneer will accept bids on various deluxe vacation, dining, golfing and lounge packages, with a few surprises, and there will also be a silent auction of exclusive items. Area garden clubs are creating the floral centerpieces, which will also be up for auction, at each table.

New this year is a Mardi Gras-inspired costume contest – everyone is encouraged to don not just masks, but feathers, beads, fringe and lots of color. Finally, attendees will enjoy a modern dance performance by the Centre Company of Lasley Performing Arts Center, returning for the second year.

Last year’s dance interpretation was tearful, powerful and moving, Hedges said, of the routine that spoke to the SAFE mission. “A work of art,” she said, with Clancey adding, “A visual representation of the journey SAFE survivors may go through.”

Ball proceeds will provide funding to continue shelter renovations and to allow the organization to continue to operate and provide services, said Hedges. In addition to shelter, SAFE offers education and youth programs, case management, counseling, legal advocacy and a 24-hour hotline at 800/825-8876.

Mostly grant-funded, SAFE depends on donations, sponsorships and other community support to cover what grants don’t. Such as a woman fleeing a situation with only the clothes on her back, said Clancey, “What they can fit in a purse. We can provide those other things to help them feel safe, secure and comfortable. We want them to be able to move from a fight or flight situation to moving forward.”

Prescription medications and vital documents are often left behind, added Hedges, costing money to replace: “Anything we can do to keep them from going back,” she said, noting hotline calls for help continue to increase.

Domestic violence calls are the No. 1 call responded to by Culpeper Town Police, said Clancey, a local councilwoman. Many more are never reported to the authorities, the women agreed. Domestic violence spans socioeconomic lines, impacting people from all walks of life, Clancey said.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you have when you leave with nothing, with no access to your finances,” she said. “It impacts everybody. If we didn’t have SAFE, I can’t imagine what would happen to this community.”

Last year, SAFE fielded 661 hotline calls, provided 3,323 nights of shelter and gave 4,634 hours of advocacy services for 290 people. The organization, its 14-member staff and 74 active volunteers also participated in more than 1,200 community engagement opportunities, reaching 13,000 people, said Hedges: “We will provide free training for any organization, a tailored presentation to whoever the audience is,” she said.

During the length of the recent visit in the SAFE office, Nickle sat quietly listening, sorting and folding donated items spilling from various large garbage bags piled up around her. Clothes for children and adults, towels and bedding all sat neatly in piles around the SAFE volunteer, waiting for distribution to someone in need.

Nickle said she recently finished helping out with another organization and figured SAFE would be a good place to now turn her focus: “I felt this was really important,” said the retiree. “I know and can reinforce what they said—(domestic violence) affects everybody.”

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