The honorees of the 2020 UNICEF Gala needed no introduction to Dallas — in fact, in a ballroom full of Dallas' most influential philanthropists, they were considered family. Dirk and Jessica Nowitzki received UNICEF's prestigious Spirit of Compassion Award — and multiple standing ovations — at the third annual gala, held February 7 at The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas.
The gala raises funds for UNICEF’s work to save and improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children, and this year's event raised a record-breaking $1.5 million.
The now-retired Dallas Mavericks legend has been a UNICEF Germany Ambassador since 2013 with a focus on fighting malnutrition. His wife, Jessica, as been a long-term member of the UNICEF regional leadership committee.
In response to Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation (of which Jessica is president) partnered with UNICEF to help create and fund new mental health initiatives for children experiencing trauma. It also created a mentorship program for families affected by the hurricane.
After a cocktail reception, 430 guests filled the ballroom for a serenade by the Texas Boys Choir, which sang the most angelic version of The Blackeyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" this side of the white light.
Co-chairs Moll Anderson and Jan Miller Rich, along with honorary chair Nancy C. Rogers, welcomed guests and emphasized the importance of the event to UNICEF's mission.
"Tonight, for me, it's about power," Rogers told the audience. "And you're powerful people supporting a powerful cause. It means the world that you would take time on a Friday night to come and be here with us, but know, please, that you are making an impact, and we truly appreciate you."
Former Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings introduced the Nowitzkis by recalling with hilarity his first time to meet Dirk: In a club, on the night he was elected in June 2011, where the Mavs star was celebrating his birthday and the team's recent NBA championship. From that night on, he said, he and Dirk remained friends.
"But the great surprise was meeting the powerful Jessica," he said. "Jessica's class, her sense of making things happen, and her sense of big picture has added so much to the city."
Upon receiving their award from Rawlings, Jessica and Dirk both expressed their thanks and support for the organization.
“It’s been a wonderful journey, learning more about what UNICEF does," Dirk said. "They’re almost in 200 countries doing amazing work.”
Guests savored dinner of hearts of palm salad, short rib, and cardamom rose tiramisu while DJ Lucy Wrubel kept the background music upbeat.
Executive Director of the Walton Family Foundation, Caryl M. Stern, reflected on her 13 years as UNICEF USA CEO and president, then Mike Sadler conducted a breathtaking auction for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. A VIP experience at the Dirk Nowitzki Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic was sold for an astounding $30,000.
Guests also took part in a paddle-raise, at which supporters donated to help build eco-friendly schools, deliver emergency relief vehicles, and provide clean water for Burundi and Guinea.
After a special performance by band King Calaway, the party moved back to the foyer for dancing and socializing at an "After Glow."
The evening's notable guests included former Dallas Maverick Michael Finley and wife Rebekah Finley, Kim McCoy, Kimberly Chandler, Chelsea Peters, Sabrina Harrison, Field Harrison, Mimi Edmonds, Ian Edmonds, Leigh Rinearson, Amee Joshi, Saf Joshi, Gowri Sharma, Catie Enrico, Joyce Goss, Selwyn Rayzor, Steve Ladik, Tom Porter, Myrna Schlegel, and Lori Mikles.