The good guys

Star-studded Dallas gala honors heroes who rescue the future for kids

Star-studded Dallas gala honors heroes who rescue the future for kids

LeeAnne Locken, Erica Greve, Taylor Dayne
LeeAnne Locken, Erica Greve, Taylor Dayne Photo by Thomas Garza
Cassadee Pope
Cassadee Pope Photo by Thomas Garza
Rebecca Bender, Cathy Kelley
Rebecca Bender, Cathy Kelley Photo by Thomas Garza
Anjelah Johnson
Anjelah Johnson Photo by Thomas Garza
Ryan Sherpy, Kelle Sherpy
Ryan Sherpy, Kelle Sherpy Photo by Thomas Garza
Ivo Spirova, Natalie Backman Spirova
Ivo Spirova, Natalie Backman Spirova Photo by Thomas Garza
Rebecca Bender, Kathy Bryan, Jeri Moomaw, Erik Gray, Leah Albright, Rebekah Charleston
Rebecca Bender, Kathy Bryan, Jeri Moomaw, Erik Gray, Leah Albright, Rebekah Charleston Photo by Thomas Garza
Lauren Grogan, Janet Jensen, Jacky Alvaradejo
Lauren Grogan, Janet Jensen, Jacky Alvaradejo Photo by Thomas Garza
Steve Kemble, Chad Collom
Steve Kemble, Chad Collom Photo by Thomas Garza
Kellie Rasberry, Cynthia Smoot
Kellie Rasberry, Cynthia Smoot Photo by Thomas Garza
Melissa Rycroft Strickland, Tye Strickland
Melissa Rycroft Strickland, Tye Strickland Photo by Thomas Garza
Gary Greve, Janet Greve
Gary Greve, Janet Greve Photo by Thomas Garza
Noel and Vanessa Bouchè
Noel Bouchè, Vanessa Bouchè Photo by Thomas Garza
Rich Emberlin, LeeAnne Locken
Rich Emberlin, LeeAnne Locken Photo by Thomas Garza
Psyche Terry, Vontoba Terry
Psyche Terry, Vontoba Terry Photo by Thomas Garza
Shaun Alexander, Val Alexander
Shaun Alexander, Val Alexander Photo by Thomas Garza
Taylor Dayne
Taylor Dayne performs. Photo by Thomas Garza
Unlikely Heroes gala 2019
Guests peruse the silent auction items. Photo by Thomas Garza
LeeAnne Locken, Erica Greve, Taylor Dayne
Cassadee Pope
Rebecca Bender, Cathy Kelley
Anjelah Johnson
Ryan Sherpy, Kelle Sherpy
Ivo Spirova, Natalie Backman Spirova
Rebecca Bender, Kathy Bryan, Jeri Moomaw, Erik Gray, Leah Albright, Rebekah Charleston
Lauren Grogan, Janet Jensen, Jacky Alvaradejo
Steve Kemble, Chad Collom
Kellie Rasberry, Cynthia Smoot
Melissa Rycroft Strickland, Tye Strickland
Gary Greve, Janet Greve
Noel and Vanessa Bouchè
Rich Emberlin, LeeAnne Locken
Psyche Terry, Vontoba Terry
Shaun Alexander, Val Alexander
Taylor Dayne
Unlikely Heroes gala 2019

Real heroes wear capes — and cocktail dresses, and ballgowns, and tuxedos with pocket squares. Heroes of all stripes and sequins showed up on the red carpet at Unlikely Heroes' seventh annual Recognizing Heroes Awards Dinner & Charity Benefit on October 26 at the Ritz-Carlton, Dallas.

Unlikely Heroes is a nonprofit organization that rescues and restores child victims of slavery worldwide. Its gala has become one of the most star-studded affairs in Dallas, bringing national celebrities from TV, music, pop culture, and sports together with big-hearted Dallas philanthropists and business leaders.

More than 400 supporters gathered at the Ritz-Carlton for an evening that started with sipping cocktails and bidding on fabulous silent auction items. After some red-carpeting poses, guests filled the ballroom to enjoy a multicourse dinner, along with joyful entertainment and heartfelt speeches that brought them to their feet several times.

Notable guests in attendance included TV personality Melissa Rycroft Strickland and her husband, Tye Strickland, actress Jessica Oyelowo, singer/songwriter Shane Stevens, "Chewbacca Mom" Candace Payne, radio host Kellie Rasberry, Dallas lifestyle guru Steve Kemble, WWE’s Cathy Kelley, and NFL star Shaun Alexander and his wife, Val.

Cassadee Pope, winner of The Voice, kicked off the evening with selections from her new album. Guests were then warmly welcomed by the evening’s hosts, comedian Anjelah Johnson (sporting a silvery cape that flowed to the floor) and Real Housewives of Dallas star LeeAnne Locken. Their witty onstage banter throughout the evening kept the mood light and jovial.

Several presentations — by Unlikely Heroes CEO and founder Erica Greve; executive director Kelle Sherpy; and survivor leader and advocate Rebecca Bender  underscored Unlikely Heroes' vital work in rescuing children and restoring their lives for success ahead. Greve spoke passionately about one young woman who went on to study pre-med at Baylor University after being trafficked as a child.

Bender (herself once a victim of trafficking) emphasized the need for youngsters to know that they will not be defined by what happened to them in the past. She spoke of her personal journey to recover her life and use her experiences to develop Elevate Academy — a one-of-a-kind online program that provides students opportunities for healing, restoration, mentorship, job training, life coaching, empowerment, and leadership development. 

Greve announced the integration of Elevate Academy into the daily work of Unlikely Heroes and that in addition to expanding the program across the country, local chapters of Elevate Extended will be launching in spring 2020. 

Then it was time to recognize the heroes who made the organization's work possible. Hero Awards were presented to Shaun and Val Alexander, who sit on the board; Janet Jensen, Sgt. Thomas Peterson, Dr. Vanessa Bouche, Erik Gray, and Jeri Moomaw for their tireless work in advancing global human rights and efforts to stop human trafficking. Joanna Czech, Brian and Annie Zvonecek, Gary and Janet Greve, and Natalie Backman Spirova received Legacy Awards for their ongoing support of Unlikely Heroes.

Guests got a chance to help personally by raising their "paddles" at an amount that felt right to them. One generous patron pledged an astounding $100,000; another, $55,000. Those who could give at the $5,000 level got to be charter members of the newly formed Heroes Club. But even those who raised their hands for a $100 donation helped the organization raise several hundred thousand dollars in just a few minutes. The fundraising portion ended on a spirited note, with a "last man standing"-type competition for the chance to take a selfie with all the stars in attendance that night.

After a celebratory champagne toast, the crowd surrounded the stage for a highly anticipated show by the evening's featured entertainer. Grammy-nominated pop icon Taylor Dayne (who hasn't aged a minute since she topped the charts in the late '80s) performed a high-energy set of her hits, including "Love Will Lead You Back," "Prove Your Love," and "Tell It To My Heart."

Guests sang and danced along until it was time to pick up auction items, grab a fabulous swag bag, and head outside to the valet line or down to the Rattlesnake Bar to continue the celebratory night.

Since 2011, Unlikely Heroes has rescued hundreds of children, and their journey to freedom starts in one of their six restoration homes located around the world. The Unlikely Heroes teams are on the ground in the United States, Mexico, Thailand, and the Philippines, providing restorative care, safe housing, education, life skills, medical care, counseling, stability, and love to every child they care for.