Rancho Santa Fe resident takes fallen soldiers’ families to Las Vegas
By Diane Y. Welch
While the beauties of the nation convened in Las Vegas recently, each vying for the title of Miss America (celebrating its 90-year anniversary), a group of wives, daughters and sons of fallen military members were also there to soak up the excitement and to receive five-star treatment thanks to a group of volunteers organized and facilitated by the charity Got Your Back Network (GYBN).
This was the second annual initiative, dubbed Project Gratitude, that aims to inspire the children of fallen soldiers and to comfort and show gratitude to their mothers. Rancho Santa Fe resident Lena Evans was one of the volunteers who chaperoned the group of eight wives and 12 children for an all-expense-paid excursion that gave everyone involved a lift to their spirits.
Lena Evans is founder and CEO of Jade Phoenix; she designs high-end apparel and also oversees charitable grants and marketing strategies for businesses. She has served as a trustee for the Women in Film Foundation, as well as holding numerous board positions for other entertainment-related charities. She currently supports charitable causes in social services, medical and arts education fields, and local outreach programs.
Evans is a close friend of GYBN founder Dr. Andrew Baldwin. She gave some of the back story of the event and the organization whose mission is “to provide the children of our country’s fallen soldiers the opportunity to intimately interact with our country’s most talented leaders,” according to its website
Key sponsors included American Airlines, which flew families and volunteers from around the country to Las Vegas, and The Venetian Hotel, which hosted a red carpet arrival, said Evans. The Venetian Hotel, with Canyon Ranch Spa, sponsored a day of beauty treatments for moms and children and provided lunch and tickets to the Blue Man Group show followed by a back stage tour and a private meet and greet with the artists. CLS 24-hour chauffeur-driven limousine service provided transportation throughout the tour.
Planet Hollywood donated accommodations for the families, and Darci Hansen, editor-in-chief of Elan Magazine, and co-originator of Project Gratitude, hosted a party at the Paris Hotel with co-founder Sharlene Hawkes, who was Miss America in 1985, said Evans.
“Two of the moms were interviewed at local news stations and later everyone enjoyed brunch with former Miss Americas, [and] the families [were] presented as guests of honor,” said Evans. “All the moms and children received special gold and diamond brooches as honorary Miss Americas.”
There were helicopter tours of Las Vegas, co-sponsored by American Airlines and Sundance Tours, and the Mirage Hotel sponsored dinner and tickets to the Terry Fator Show — and a VIP meet and greet with him.
The excitement continued as the group met the 2011 contestants and also the former Miss Americas.
“Some of the girls were able to try on some of the women’s crowns and they were over the moon with smiles from ear to ear,” said Kathleen Gagg, executive director for GYBN.
“These women are such great role models and can be such a great inspiration to young girls. This year’s 2011 Miss America, Miss Nebraska, Teresa Scanlan, was the youngest [contestant] ever to win and I think it shows them that any dream can come true and you just have to keep believing and moving forward,” said Gagg.
Got Your Back Network is a foundation committed to returning the salute to the families of the nation’s fallen. Its mission is to provide the children of the country’s fallen soldiers the opportunity to intimately interact with the nation’s most talented leaders. Through diverse coordinated events, and one-on-one interactions with corporate executives, politicians, professional athletes, and entertainers, GYBN provides the avenue for the children of the fallen to learn and be inspired by the most successful leaders of our generation.
“This is all about remembering the great service and, ultimately, the great sacrifice that so many families make to preserve our way of life, and defend our liberties. Giving these women and children a royal weekend is the very least we can do for America’s greatest treasures and I am so thrilled that we are continuing this tradition,” said Sharlene Hawkes.
On the heels of the four-day event, Evans has been invited by GYBN to serve as board member. She is honored and excited to take on the responsibility, she said. For more information on GYBN, visit www.gotyourbacknetwork.org
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