A Groovy Fundraiser Reaches Historic Heights

“Steve Westphal is a prominent restauranteur in the Tampa Bay area. He owns six restaurants in Pinellas County. When he puts his name to something, it’s because he believes in the product. In March, Westphal attended Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties’ Annual Gala at The Vinoy in St. Petersburg. Inspired by a night filled with homeowner success stories and highlights of a record year for the Habitat affiliate, Westphal grabbed the microphone during the middle of the giving portion of the evening.

“Now is the time to give,” said Westphal in front of a sold-out room of more than 500 Habitat supporters. “Housing is way too unaffordable for folks. The need is here, and the mission is real, and tonight is the night!” Westphal and his wife, Nancy, pledged $50,000 – top-level sponsorship for a Habitat home. It kicked off an inspiring round of giving. Paddles went flying up all over the ballroom. Volunteer whistles blaring in harmony repeatedly to flag down the emcee for the latest donation. It would take some time to calculate the total.

The 2023 Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties Annual Gala was set to a 70’s Disco theme. Everyone dressed to their best with outrageous hair, colorful outfits, and toe-clenching shoes that were all about style. After all, it’s for a good cause. All enjoyed Drinks and food, with fun prizes and lavish auction items up for grabs. But what separates this event from others are the impactful stories. Half of the event’s volunteers were in the Habitat homeownership program and were there to share their journey to owning a home and earning sweat equity hours in the process.
Habitat Homeowner and board member Davisha Earley delivered the message of the evening. “Thanks to an organization like Habitat, I could check off other boxes besides being a homeowner,” Earley told the room. “Things like college graduate and registered nurse.” Earley closed her speech by thanking the supporters for “seeing us not just for who we are but for who we one day can be.”

Hands hurt from clapping. Cheeks sore from smiling. Eyes well-hydrated from tears. Now, it was time for the supporters to put their feet to work by dancing. But just as Earth, Wind and Fire was ready to blast through the speakers, Habitat President and CEO, Mike Sutton took the microphone one final time.

“We did it,” said Sutton. “We have raised more money tonight than at any previous Habitat gala!” That total was $852,000—a new record for this Habitat affiliate. As one attendee said, “You’re not here to eat and drink; you’re here to help change lives and help families achieve that dream of owning a home.”

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties is one of the top-producing Habitat affiliates in the nation. It will build 80 homes this year alone – an amazing feat when you consider constructing each new Habitat home costs $42,000 more now than before the pandemic. That doesn’t happen without the incredible support from a community that has now set up Habitat to have a record-setting year in home builds, thanks to a record-setting night at The Vinoy.

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