More than 200 guests - including several from Lewiston - gathered to meet and hear Fox News Channel anchor Bill O'Reilly speak at the It Happened to Alexa Foundation event on March 25 at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla. O'Reilly, who was introduced by Donald Trump, served as keynote speaker for the third annual "Justice is Served" benefit and entertained the crowd with his political banter, as well as expressing his support for the work being done by the It Happened to Alexa Foundation.
Guests gathered for a poolside reception before heading to the main ballroom to hear O'Reilly speak. Fox News contributor, legal analyst and Alexa advisory board member Wendy Murphy served as evening master of ceremonies. The event also featured silent and live auctions and VIP ticket holders had the opportunity to meet O'Reilly and participate in a book signing and special reception prior to the event.
It Happened to Alexa founders, Tom and Stacey Branchini, thanked guests for their support and briefly shared how they started the organization in 2003 after their daughter, Alexa, was assaulted and raped as a freshman in college. The Boca Raton couple started the foundation to help support rape survivors through the trauma of the criminal trial by assisting their families with expenses during the litigation process.
"We had a great turnout and are thankful for the support of everyone at the event," said Alexa Executive Director Ellen Augello. "The funds raised assist our foundation's goal of ensuring that sexual predators are taken off the streets. When our organization is involved in assisting a family to support a victim, the rate of conviction for those cases is more than 85 percent. When the foundation is not involved, the conviction rate is at about 5 percent. We want to be able to be involved in many more cases, and proceeds from this event help make that possible."
A highlight of the evening was live auctioneer Dick Robinson, who had guests in a bidding war for a pair of 18-karet, white gold diamond and south-sea pearl drop earrings valued at $14,000, donated by Eloquence of North Palm Beach. Robinson also auctioned cruise and travel packages, other jewelry and more.
This year's event chairmen were Patrick Park and Nathalie Fernandez. Donald and Melania Trump and Walter Ross served as honorary chairs. The third annual event was dedicated to the memory of Cathleen McFarlane-Ross, 2009 event chair and a former Lewiston resident.
Event sponsors included Park and Fernandez, the William O'Reilly Foundation, Raptor Technologies Inc., American Airlines, Mary Campbell, Donald J. Trump Foundation Inc., The Kazma Family, Thomas and Cindy Feltenstein, McFarlane Charitable Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Robinson, Newsmax Media Inc., Eloquence Fine Jewelry, Roberto Coin (Saks 5th Avenue, Palm Beach), Advanced Jets, Gulfstream Media Group and John and Monika Preston.
IHTA is the only foundation of its kind in the U.S. providing direct financial assistance to rape victims' families for travel-related expenses during the litigation process. After their daughter's long and traumatic trial ended, the Branchini family realized that many families in similar circumstances would not have the finances to support the travel and lodging costs incurred in an out-of-town trial. They didn't want a lack of funds to prevent any rape victim from prosecuting her (or his) attacker.
For more information on the It Happened to Alexa Foundation, visit www.ithappenedtoalexa.org or call Augello toll-free at 877-77ALEXA.