Fifteenth Annual FUNdraiser a huge success for FIRE Foundation

Wining, dining and checking up on their smart phone bids for silent auction items, guests at FIREBall 2017, Hot Havana Night, await the evening’s program featuring the Flame Award, the Live Auction and Cash Call. The total amount raised was $370,385 to provide educators and programs for students with special needs in the 14 partner schools. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — A rainy evening, storms threatening. But a few drops of rain couldn’t keep hundreds of FIRE supporters away from a Hot Havanah Night Oct. 14th at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland downtown. It was FIREBall, the annual FUNdraiser for the FIRE Foundation.

Inside the historic theatre, bright colors and floral patterns abounded, as guests mingled on the stairs, slowly strolled past tables heaped with silent auction items, some placing bids on their smart phones, or lined up at one of the several bars set up on both floors. Rhumba, mambo and salsa music thrummed while dancers performed on the stage in the theatre and on the staircase’s bottom step.

If you closed your eyes, you could almost imagine being in Havana, Cuba on a hot summer night. All that was needed was the heady fragrance of a good cigar. But wait, that dream could come true. A tobacconist from Weston Tobacco hand rolled cigars for sale while customers watched.

FIRE Foundation, known for its advocacy for children with special needs, raises funds so that children with a range of disabilities can share the same learning experiences in 12 Catholic elementary schools and two high schools in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Those schools include: St. Peter’s, Visitation, St. Elizabeth’s, Holy Cross, Our Lady of Hope, Our Lady of the Presentation, Nativity of Mary, St. Charles, St. Gabriel, St. Patrick’s, St. Therese-Parkville, St. Thomas More, and St. Pius X and St. Michael the Archangel high schools.

The Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education, or F.I.R.E., came into being through the efforts of six families with children with special needs, who wanted them to attend the same parish schools their siblings and friends attended. Since 1996, FIRE has provided more than $3.8 million to support inclusive education in its partner schools. Donor gifts enable schools to hire special educators, para-educators and purchase learning materials and technology. This school year, 192 students with special needs learn alongside their peers with trained staff providing consistent support. Another 474 students who need a little extra help benefit from the availability of special education support, and all children in the partner schools grow together in faith, knowledge and friendship in a culture of acceptance and compassion, which enriches 4,669 lives. Talk about win-win!

The first BONFire barbecue benefiting the foundation was held in 2002, and grossed $32,195. The foundation was rebranded as FIRE Foundation in 2015, and the annual gala has since grown in scope, attendance and contributions. Through ticket sales, both silent and live auctions, donations and Cash Call, and raffle tickets sales, FIRE Foundation grossed $370,385 at this year’s FIREBall. Executive director Lynn Hire said that is the highest amount the foundation has ever raised.

The Cuban-style buffet was a big hit, and as dinner wound down, the Flame Awards for Educator of the Year, Advocate of the Year, Volunteer of the Year and the Spark Award were announced. The Educator of the Year was presented to Laura Connealy of Visitation School. The Advocate of the Year was Mark Ungashick of St. Peter’s. Nina Troester of St. Elizabeth’s was named Volunteer of the Year, and the Spark Award was presented to Mindy Ramirez Setser of Our Lady of the Presentation.

Several of the live auction items found their way through fierce bidding to $5,000; dinner with Bishop James Johnston Jr., sold for $1,750; trips to Ireland and New York and sporting events sold for between $1,000 and $3,000. There were other auction items, a raffle for $1,996, and the Cash Call, which totaled $70,000. Hire said the cash call total was $30,000 more than their goal.

The final presentation was by Honorary Chairs Scott and Lisa Hallier, parents of a child with special needs. Scott Hallier spoke of his son, of wanting him to be able to go to the same parish school his siblings attended, and learning about FIRE from a story in the Catholic Key. The inclusive attitude and welcome Luke was given at school still resonates with his parents. Hallier’s presentation resulted in a few teary eyes around the theatre.

The party continued after the silent auction closed in the Copa Room, FIRE’s Kansas City twist on the famous Havana cabaret, on the theatre’s 5th floor.

I can still taste the paella and pecan corn bread!

 To learn more about FIRE Foundation, visit or call (816) 756-1850 ext. 247.


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November 29, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph