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OPAL Awards honor 8, raise thousands for college scholarships

Boca came together to honor eight standouts and collectively raised $220,000 at the 21st annual OPAL Awards.

“Because of nights like this, we’re able to provide scholarships,” OPAL co-chairman and auctioneer Neil Saffer told 360 supporters at Boca West Country Club.  The Rotary Club of Boca Raton honors Outstanding People and Leaders to raise funds for scholarships and mentoring.

In a moving speech, Garsendy St. Fleur described how the club helped him go from a homeless teen to a business major at Florida Atlantic University.  Previous scholarship winners Gabriela Heizer, Rivka Averbukh, and Valerie Dutreuil greeted guests and others stood to be recognized. Palm Beach State College Boca Raton provost Dr. Bernadette Russell was among the guests.

This year’s OPAL honorees included Place of Hope founder and CEO Charles Bender III. His agency here and in north county house and help abused and neglected foster children.  Bender thanked Boca for embracing the agency when it took over and rebuilt The Haven site here. “Let’s build out the campus. Let’s do it together,” he said.

Ron Gallatin played “Eight Days a Week” to illustrate how devoted Rabbi David Steinhardt is to his work. Steinhardt just celebrated 25 years at B’nai Torah Congregation.

St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church pastor Rev. Andrew Sherman praised his interfaith work and gave the invocation that evening.

Aubrey and Sally Strul were honored for co-founding the Kelly-Strul Emerging Scholars Program with FAU president John and Carolyn Kelly. Kelly attended the event and spoke on their video.

Neil Saffer (left) co-chair of the Opal awards and Jan Savarick (right) was the emcee.

Boca West Foundation founder and former OPAL honoree Arthur Adler called the couple “the dynamic duo.”

“Our students outperform the national average and will graduate debt-free,” Sally Strul said.

David Dweck introduced Art and Glorianne Polacheck for a special Rotary salute.  Art said he decided at 85 to start a new life of community service. His wife retired as a teacher and now writes children’s books she gives to hospitals including St. Jude’s.

The club’s Lifetime Legacy Award went to Multi Image Group founders Arlene and Jim Sclafani. They’ve provided audio-visual for the OPALs for years, including this year’s videos. Their firm started in their home and now employees 150 people, he said.

Saffer conducted the live auction and donations request with the help of Bill Riddick. Jan Savarick was the evening’s emcee. Saffer’s co-chair was Spencer Siegel.  Presenting sponsors were Gallatin and his wife Meryl and the Struls.  Club president is Don Londeree and president-elect is Vanessa Havener.

By Marci Shatzman

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