When they conducted their first information session in 1996, Opus co-founders Katherine Michele and Lee Hulings crossed their fingers that 25 people would brave the weather to learn about the new nonprofit. They needed volunteers to help raise funds and awareness for Person-to-Person, a local agency helping neighbors in need. To their surprise, more than 100 women filled the room and the Opus legacy was born.
Chosen for its Latin meaning, "great works," Opus later became known as Opus for Person-to-Person. Since it was formed, the group has raised more than $2.3 million. These funds enable Person-to-Person to assist approximately 22,000 individuals on an annual basis. Michele, who was president from 1996 to 1998, is thrilled with how Opus has evolved.
"None of us could have imagined that Opus would grow to where it is today," she said. "It reflects that each year, the membership is committed to increasing its impact on Person-to-Person from the previous year."
Another pivotal result has been uniting 800 women during the past 15 years to work together to make a difference.
Hulings remembers a conversation in a nursery school parking lot, where she and fellow moms were learning about each others' skills and experiences.
"One person was a doctor, someone was in advertising and another hoped to write a book. Everyone had a different point of view and wanted to use their talents for something meaningful like Opus," Hulings said. "We shared a need to be part of a community and to help a community."
Throughout the years, Opus for Person-to-Person has assembled more than 3,000 layettes for new moms, provided nearly 7,400 summer camp opportunities, offered financial assistance to more than 11,000 families, awarded college scholarships to nearly 500 students, donated clothing items and opened up the food pantry to those in need.
Former Executive Director Janet Evans, who worked with Person-to-Person from 1987 to 2003, remembers how Opus adopted Person-to-Person and how they worked together for a common goal.
"It was amazing, and it just happened," said Evans, who credits Opus with bringing them closer to the business community. "We were originally a small, church-oriented organization that had relationships with other churches and agencies. Opus showed us there was a whole other world out there."
Evans fondly remembers the initiative Opus took, and watching them "run with it." When Hulings single-handedly redecorated the waiting area in an effort to bring more dignity and comfort to the clients, Evans thought it was wonderful. "That's the kind of thing that can happen when leaders have the capacity to say, `Yes you have a gift; let's use it.' "
As a culmination of the 15-year milestone, Opus for Person-to-Person is celebrating the past, present and future at the annual spring gala. The Crystal Ball will take place on Saturday, March 31, at the Loading Dock in Stamford.
With a celebrity DJ who regularly entertains Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Victoria Beckham and Ralph Lauren, the 15th anniversary bash puts a unique spin on the traditional gala. The auction will be led by auctioneer CK Swett. Items include an Aspen vacation, a private boat cruise, VIP sporting events and an at-home dinner party catered by the Tuscan's executive chef.
When asked what she's looking forward to most about the event, Michele said, "The top of my list is celebrating 15 years of young women dedicating their valuable time and energy to helping their neighbors who lack basic necessities and resources to change their lives."