Celebrating Ten ARVO Foundation Galas
This year in Vancouver, the ARVO Foundation will host its tenth gala event – not the tenth annual event, but the tenth in the last 12 years. Currently one of the preeminent events in the week-long ARVO Annual Meeting, the ARVO Foundation Gala wasn’t always a regular fixture in the Annual Meeting schedule.
What is now the ARVO Foundation Gala was first conceived in 2008 as a one-time event to honor John E. Dowling, PhD, FARVO, the ARVO Foundation’s first chairman. Gary A. Abrams, MD, FARVO had just succeeded Dowling as chair of the ARVO Foundation’s board. He and the staff were interested in planning something to honor Dowling and raise awareness about the ARVO Foundation among ARVO members as the organization looked to expand its base of contributors beyond just corporate supporters.
“The problem was that no one knew what ‘AFER’” was,” he says, referring to the ARVO Foundation for Eye Research’s original acronym. “You’d ask ARVO members, ‘What do you think of AFER?’ and they would respond, ‘What’s AFER?’”
The first event, held the Saturday evening before the Annual Meeting, was called “An Evening Among Friends” and guests were invited to attend in Dowling’s honor. There were about 85 guests in attendance and more who had made a contribution in lieu of attending. Additionally, the ARVO Foundation launched at the first event the Dowling Society, a giving circle for those who donate $10,000 or more. Fourteen inaugural members were inducted that year, a first big step in engaging individual ARVO members directly in the ARVO Foundation’s work.
Nicolas G. Bazan, MD, PhD, FARVO, who succeeded Abrams as board chairman in 2010, had seen the potential of the event. “Nic had the vision that it could be more than just a one-time event – he really saw it for what it could become, and he had the personality to pull it off,” Abrams remembers. Bazan revived the event as the “ARVO Foundation and Dowling Society Gala Awards Ceremony and Dinner” in 2011 and designed the program to honor others who had made significant contributions to ARVO. Despite the two-year gap in event momentum, the second event grew to 200 attendees that year.
The ARVO Foundation Gala has grown steadily over the years. It is now one of the major events at the ARVO Annual Meeting and is the ARVO Foundation’s largest annual fundraising initiative. “It’s become a kickoff event for ARVO,” Abrams says. “Everyone who is a leader in vision science is there. You want to be where the important people are.” More than 540 guests attended the 2018 ARVO Foundation Gala, which raised more than $95,000 to support the ARVO Foundation’s mission. The 2019 ARVO Foundation anticipates similar attendance in Vancouver. Additionally, 21 new members of the Dowling Society will be inducted there, bringing the total to 116 members.
“It sure has been fun to watch this grow,” says Abrams thinking back on the last 12 years. He adds with a chuckle, “And no one says, ‘What’s AFER?’ anymore.”