Almost two decades ago, Santa Fe started a wonderful tradition — using an annual Mayor’s Ball for the purpose of raising money for that year’s nonprofit organization.

As a result, nonprofits over the years were able to raise tens of thousands of dollars annually to keep doing their good work. This year, with the help of one of the original organizers of the first Mayor’s Ball — Buddy Roybal, along with his wife, Irene — the annual tradition became a way to honor volunteers for all that they do for Santa Fe.

Instead of a fundraiser, Mayor Alan Webber turned his first Mayor’s Ball into an event paying tribute to 27 nonprofits in Santa Fe, as well as more than 250 individuals who make our city better. It was a chance to give back to those people who give so much to the city. That’s why it now will be called the Mayor’s Give Back Ball.

“It was absolutely perfect,” Roybal said last week after the ball — held at the perfect time, just before National Volunteers Month in April. “It was a good way for the community to come together and honor people who don’t usually get honored.”

With host Jill Cooper Udall, food from Hotel Santa Fe, centerpieces courtesy of Meow Wolf, music from the Pink Flamingos, flowers from Tradewinds International and a host of sponsors to underwrite the event, some 700 people came together in the spirit of volunteerism. For a night, folks could forget about fundraising and just have a wonderful time. There was no silent auction, no live auction, no nothing except great food, companionship and lots of dancing.

Working with the Santa Fe Community Foundation, ball organizers selected nonprofits — and they, in turn, chose volunteers to invite. The idea was to recognize the from-the-ranks folks who make the organizations hum, giving them a fun night. Costs were covered by Roybal’s team of organizers, who raised the money from sponsors. The volunteers being recognized didn’t have to pay a dime. For other ball-goers, tickets were $75. Reasonable, as Santa Fe galas go.

For Roybal, who conceived of the first ball as a way to help the Boys and Girls Club, the new format brings together many different voices from Santa Fe’s diverse communities. The Santa Fe Indian Center was honored, and so was Somos Un Pueblo Unido, Habitat for Humanity and Many Mothers.

Next year, different organizations will be selected — and one sign of Santa Fe’s vibrant volunteer community is so many worthy groups are in the wings, waiting to be recognized. The power of volunteerism in this town is one of Santa Fe’s best characteristics; uniting that power under one roof, even for an evening, will pay dividends going forward. We can’t wait to see what they are.

For now, Roybal is pleased with the revamping of the ball: “It brought the community together.”

And next year, planners will do it all again, honoring volunteers, reaching across neighborhoods and demonstrating the strength of a united Santa Fe.

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