Michelle Sie Whitten and Joan Gabrielson
By Glory Weisberg
Excelsior Youth Center changes the lives of girls who have faced almost insurmountable obstacles, and gives them new perspectives and methods to put them on a track toward success.
Excelsior is the largest such treatment center in the U.S. for girls, and their accomplishments don’t come cheap. The annual gala fills in those funding gaps and honors a woman who’s already accomplished the hurdles facing her to become a productive icon in the community.
Lois Paul, Bonnie Mandarich and Maureen Regan Cannon chaired the gala that honored Michelle Sie Whitten. Looking at her today, few would guess she’s had some tough mountains to climb. She is a beacon of light for women and gay rights and attacking ethnic discrimination she’s faced as the daughter of an Italian mother and Chinese father, Anna and John Sie.
But the story doesn’t end here; it just lays the groundwork for the rights of those born with Down syndrome.
Gala chairs Bonnie Mandarich, Maureen Regan Cannon and Lois Paul
Michelle and husband Tom have two children. The first born, Sophia, has Down syndrome and when faced with the realities of this illness, Michelle found that Down syndrome was the least funded of all major children’s medical issues. She then set out to change that. She founded the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, drawing on the family’s financial success to get started by supporting the research-based Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome. Engaging the community in this battle, Michelle started the Be Beautiful, Be Yourself Fashion Show that sells out to the massive walls of a major hotel each year, featuring children with Down syndrome, paired with local sports stars and other supporters.
There couldn’t be a more fitting example of how to defeat near impossible odds of success that rings home to Excelsior’s students.
The annual Excelsior Gala also recognizes past Triumphant Women, draws them back to the limelight and also asks some to lead Excelsior student sessions on various topics recognizing the girls’ past, while stressing the promise of a future using skills the Triumphant Women used to achieve success. This year’s gala emcee was Lannie Garrett, a 2008 honoree.
Cindy Acree is another past honoree, surviving medical challenges to become an important state political voice. She is now running for Arapahoe County commissioner, representing District 4.
With the help of professional auctioneer Gary Corbett, the gala achieved a $50,000 challenge grant from the Anschutz Foundation. This was a glittery, fun profitable affair.
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