It is striking what happens when a room full of people committed to a cause join forces. That is what occurred on Wednesday evening at the Mezzanine in New York City. Nearly 180 people who care about justice for the impoverished and vulnerable, gathered to celebrate the work of Wildcat— an agency with a history of pioneering action on behalf of those who need a second chance. And they came to celebrate the lifetime efforts of honoree Tina Luongo— Attorney-in-Charge, Criminal Defense Practice, Legal Aid Society and a tireless advocate of equality and justice. Every speaker built on the message—we can make a difference for those who need a second chance. We can move women out of Rikers who are detained only because they are poor and cannot afford bail. We can change the life of a person whose drug use drove them to criminal behavior. As our speaker Shantae Klass so eloquently stated “Through the help of the Rikers Women’s Project –a ground-breaking program led by Valentina Morales with funding from Open Society and Robin Hood—I am learning that my criminal behavior in the past does not define me today or in the future.”
Former Wildcat Board Chair Peter Samuels and Wildcat Founder Herb Sturz—a social change icon in his own right— highlighted the storied history of Wildcat, its past Executive Director Amy Betanzos and her passion for fighting for right. “ She was a wonderful friend and a powerful enemy—so people started to do what she asked rather than face her wrath!” said Herb. That is the foundation for the agency Wildcat is today—we fight the good fight for those who cannot advocate for themselves.
Each year during the Spring Cocktail Party we also honor a business that has gone over and above to hire people served by Fedcap/Wildcat with our WorkStar™ Award. This year Uncommon Goods, headquartered in Brooklyn, was our recipient. When Sean Cullens received the award he raised it over his head—and a cheering crowd applauded. They have employed 50 people from our family of agencies in the past year.
The evening was filled with moments of joy, laughter and a few tears—especially in the heartfelt video tribute to Tina.
What an amazing evening!