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HFEE Gala Attracts Capacity Crowd to Laud Suzi Biagi and Jon Dawson

A crowd of 220 turned out to laud longtime Huntington High School business teacher, Suzi Biagi, and beloved business owner, Jonathon Dawson of Jonny D’s, at the Huntington Foundation’s annual Reach for the Stars gala on March 21st. The HFEE board selected the picturesque harborside venue, The Harbor Club by Prime, to present its coveted Spirit Award to Suzi and Jon for their many contributions to the young people of the Huntington School District.

The evening started with a sunset happy hour in a sunlit room overlooking the harbor, which included signature cocktails and variety of passed hors d’oeuvres. Guests mixed and mingled as they browsed a variety of raffle prizes ranging from silent auction trips to Marco Island, Florida, and Montauk Point, a Solo Pizza oven donated by the Associated Teachers of Huntington, gift baskets donated by Joanina’s and many other restaurants and businesses in Huntington. Click here to view the photo gallery.

“Once again, we were impressed with the support and generosity of the many business owners and families in Huntington,” remarked HFEE’s vice president of development and gala co-chair, Tara Poli. “We have so many repeat sponsors like Palacios Law Group, Prime Properties, ShopRite, Sherwood Environmental and many others. We also welcomed new sponsors like the Southdown UPS Store and Craft Kitchen, just to name a few. It’s heartwarming to see how their support is given in the spirit of community and love of Huntington.”

The festivities moved into the ballroom later in the evening, as guests were treated to a sampling of songs from the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School/Woodhull Intermediate School’s production of Little Mermaid Jr. performed by a select group of six graders. This vivacious group of singers delighted the crowd and drew enthusiastic applause. From there, HFEE president, Jennifer Stevens, welcomed guests and provided an overview of HFEE’s mission and impact on the Huntington School District over the years. The HFEE team produced a video that not only showcase the group’s work, but to also celebrated the many wonderful activities, programs, and people within Huntington school [view here].

The pinnacle of the evening was the presentation of the Spirit Awards to the 2024 honorees. Upon receiving their awards, both Suzi and Jon gave heartfelt speeches that moved many to tears.

“Over the past few months, I’ve had a chance to get to know Jon and Suzi. A common theme of ‘paying it forward’ and gratefulness emerged from each of their narratives. Helping others, whether it’s feeding the hungry or providing guidance to a student who needs extra care, comes naturally to Jon and Suzi. It’s part of their DNA and what brings them great joy and purpose. For Jon, he learned that hard work pays off from his first after school job at DiRaimo’s, which also sparked his entrepreneurial spirit. For Suzi, it was a few special teachers who helped guide her through Huntington High School when she was a student, who inspired her to become a teacher,” noted Ms. Stevens.

“Both Jon and Suzi credited that early investment in their futures as pivotal and life-changing. In fact, Suzi said, after several years of night school and getting her degree, when she was offered a job as teacher in Huntington, where she student taught, she knew her hard work and perseverance paid off. She said that at that moment, she felt like she was on top of the world.”

In all, this year’s Gala was celebration of the Huntington community and the foundational role a strong and vibrant school district plays in bringing neighbors and families together. Blue Devil pride was certainly on display – and was a great way to welcome new superintendent, Mr. Christian Bowen, to his first HFEE Gala. Mr. Bowen has already been a great partner in HFEE’s efforts and along with the Huntington Board of Education, the administrators, teachers, and staff.

Proceeds from this year’s Gala will go toward funding the 2024/25 grant program for teachers within the district. Supporters contributed thousands of dollars in sponsorships for the Gala. See the full list of sponsors and donors here.