FARMINGTON — Local leaders and community members gathered on Friday evening to support a good cause and enjoy an evening that featured an auction, dinner, dessert, gambling and aerial silk dancing.

The occasion was the fifth annual San Juan County Mayors' Ball for Charity, which benefited Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico for the second year in a row.

More than 400 people filled the Farmington Civic Center on Friday evening, a trend of rising attendance and community participation for the charitable event, according to Carrie Olson, Mayors' Ball committee co-chair.

"This community has supported this event like nothing I've ever seen," said Olson, who has served on the Mayors' Ball since its inception. "Coming into the night, we had sponsors that pledged over $75,000."

With the gambling activity, champagne tower and auction, the Farmington nonprofit agency stands to receive about $100,000, Olson said.

"Delivering $100,000 for any agency, especially in this economy, it's humbling," she said. "No matter what happens tonight, it's already a huge success."

Leading up to the event, mayors from each of the county's municipalities choose a single nonprofit that will benefit from the ball's proceeds for three years. Last year, the mayors selected Sexual Assault Services as the three-year beneficiary.For the first three years of the ball, Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Juan County was the beneficiary.

Christine Garcia, who stepped down as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Juan County last month, recast the event for San Juan County, inspired by a similar event she attended in Santa Fe six years ago, Olson said.

On Friday, sexual abuse education advocate and author Erin Merryn told her personal story at the event. Merryn is also an advocate for Erin's Law, which she said Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law two years ago.

 

Eleana Butler, Sexual Assault Services executive director, told the people gathered in the Civic Center's ballroom that sexual assault and sexual violence are tough topics for society to address. But, she said, talking about those issues directly is important.

Butler said the organization's sexual assault nurse examiners helped 131 local sexual assault survivors last year. Half of those people were younger than 18. And half of that number were younger than 12, she said.

"There are more people here this year," Butler said of attendance at Friday's event. "The fact that you come and support the work is really incredible."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.