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Chart at Course for Children is the real deal. Organized by a group of committed, low-key people, this annual dinner at Fleet Landing, which always ends at a reasonable hour, has raised more than a million dollars for the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center since its inception ten years ago. With attendance capped at 150 guests, many of whom wear jeans, this casual gathering feels more like a friendly, intimate dinner party—there are no big bands, no flashy dance numbers, no visiting celebrities. As founding co-host Weesie Newton said at the end of Thursday night's affair, "It takes a village to make something magical like this happen, and we're lucky to have found our village long ago."

Indeed, there was something special in the air at this year's dinner. A cloud of 1,100 helium balloons—one representing every child assisted in 2009 by DNLCC—covered the ceiling, which really hammered home the volume of abused children in our community (especially considering the balloons only represent the children who reported the abuse and sought help at DNLCC). Hanging from each balloon was a tag inscribed with a first name and an age: Catherine, age 2; Terrell, age 11; etc. The idea of committee member Caroline Johnson, the balloons were tagged and then transported to the restaurant via a horse trailer by a team of volunteers. Their hard work translated into a powerful visual that came into play toward the end of the night.

A growing number of charity auctions have seized upon a way to harness live auction momentum and coax additional support from bidders. A representative of the charity stands mid-auction and shares a particularly poignant story followed by a bottom line tally of what it costs to provide service to one person, in this case a child. The auctioneer then queries the room with, "Who will help by sponsoring a child?" Bidders raise their paddles, and with a show of fingers, indicate the number of children to be sponsored. Typically the cost ranges from $100 - $200 at the various events; however, it costs DNLCC $1,300 to assist one child, so that's the amount auctioneer Doug Warner solicited from the crowd. Immediately, paddles rose around the room, and in less than ten minutes, almost $60,000 had been pledged.

In a moving symbolic gesture, DNLCC development director Beverly Hutchison pulled balloons from the ceiling and handed them to bidders who pledged to underwrite the network of services provided for each abused child. Between ticket sales, the auction, and the outright pledges, more than $178,000 was raised by the end of the night.

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