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Packed Turnout for IACF’s Charity Casino Night and Scholarship Awards

IACF President Ramesh Cherivirala (left) and Board Director Jawahar Malhotra flank FBISD Trustee K. P. George

IACF President Ramesh Cherivirala (left) and Board Director Jawahar Malhotra flank FBISD Trustee K. P. George

Click here for photo collage

 

By Jawahar Malhotra

 HOUSTON: You felt a rush just getting into the packed lobby of the Aloft Hotel on Westheimer and Sage. The two-level lobby is Scandinavian modern chic and has plenty of seating spread around, with oversized table lamps, a color changing LED infused bar counter with a bright yellow backdrop for the liquor bottles and a pool table on one side where the buffet line had been set up by Madras Pavilion. Through the glass backwall where banners of the IACF’s four areas of focus were splayed out, an open air paved patio touched onto Westheimer, a short retaining wall, hedge and the sidewalk separating it from the traffic.

The Indo American Charity Foundation had organized their Aces of Hearts for Charity Casino Night on Saturday, August 2 to highlight the work that the 26 year-old venerable institution has performed in the Bayou City to bring attention and respect to the contributions of Indo American community in the process. “We are getting ready for our annual Gala on September 20 at the Hilton Americas,” explained IACF President Ramesh Cherivirala “and this casino night is a precursor to the event.”

Ft Bend District Attorney John Healy (left) and FBISD Trustee Jim Rice (right) with some of the students who received part of the $25,000 scholarship fund that the IACF distributed.

Ft Bend District Attorney John Healy (left) and FBISD Trustee Jim Rice (right) with some of the students who received part of the $25,000 scholarship fund that the IACF distributed.

It’s an event that only the IACF seems to pull off every year, and for the past three years in exotic locales – among the rare minerals and gems of the Museum of Natural History, in the paleontology exhibit of the Museum and now on the busy corner of Westheimer and Sage, exuding the feeling of a nightclub with a packed crowd. As most Indian events go, this was a welcome change from the usual round table and chair gatherings that other groups tend to gravitate to. If galas set each group apart, then certainly this pre-gala event has become one to look forward to each year for its originality.

This year, the Ace of Hearts for Charity was an interactive casino night experience intended to allow guests to have fun as well as to learn about the IACF’s goals and meet with its current and past leadership at the Aloft Hotel. It came on the heels of the IACF’s successful Desi Grandparents Day, a first ever program intended to bring three generations together, which was held last week (see IAN dated August 1, 2014). Tables for playing Blackjack, Dice and Roulette were scattered around the lobby and guests huddled over to play, with screams of both delight and frustration, for three prizes which were awarded as the event ended around midnight.

Guests played at the blackjack, roulette and craps tables at the Ace of Hearts Charity event on Saturday, August 2.

Guests played at the blackjack, roulette and craps tables at the Ace of Hearts Charity event on Saturday, August 2.

Coupled with the casino night was the awarding of $25,000 of scholarships to 18 deserving college bound high school students (see list), a tradition that the IACF has resurrected after a two year hiatus during which it had launched its iEducate mentoring program spearheaded by past president David Raj who passed away last year. A special award to given in his name – the David Raj Memorial Scholarship – to the most deserving student, Morgan Harding, who had exceled in spite of formidable odds. The students received scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,500, based on need, performance and other criteria.

In another change to involve the mainstream, IACF devised a selection process that involved the Fort Bend ISD to assist in getting applications from students and also in monitoring their progress. Each student will submit receipts for college expenses which will be paid by FBISD upto the limit of the scholarship amount they were awarded.

As a measure of their involvement, FBISD Trustees K. P. George and Jim Rice along with Deputy Superintendent Dr. Christi Whitbeck attended the event and got a chance to hand out the certificates and speak to the gathering. Fort Bend District Attorney John Healey, a strong supporter of the Indian community, also attended and also spoke a few words. An enthusiastic Cherivirala called on many of prominent people in the crowd from the Indian community, and many of the IACF Board Directors, to come forward and hand out each certificate to the students, who all lined up in front of the IACF banners.

Event emcee KTRH TV reporter Pooja Lodhia (left) and Event coordinator Vanitha Pothuri flank IACF President Ramesh Cherivirala

Event emcee KTRH TV reporter Pooja Lodhia (left) and Event coordinator Vanitha Pothuri flank IACF President Ramesh Cherivirala

The response for the co-mingled event was overpowering as a crowd of over 200 people packed the hotel lobby and walked around meeting and greeting one another. Each student arrived with several members of their family and friends and many others came to enjoy the casino activities, leading to what has to be one of IACF’s most attended functions. The atmosphere was charged with the hub-bub and commotion of people, with many crowded together for the presentations, and music played out non-stop by DJ Yogi making for a nice, exciting gathering.

Board members Vanitha Reddy Pothuri conceived and coordinated the overall event; Neeta Balsaver and Kamala Raghavan took care of registration of the guests; and Alpa Shah, who is a co-owner of Madras Pavilion restaurant which catered the food for the evening, made valiant efforts to keep up with the demands to replenish the dishes even as more than double the people than expected showed up to the event.

The emcee was the evening was KTRH TV Channel 13 news reporter Pooja Lodhia who opened up with remarks describing the history and activities of the IACF and guided the event along throughout the evening. Pothuri chimed in, expanding on the goals of the event and inviting everyone to enjoy the evening. This reporter, who happens to also be on the IACF Board, emphasized how IACF has helped local emerging charities and needy causes and is different than other Indo American charities in the city which focus on causes in India. Srivanvitha Sridhar, the 14 year-old teen who had won the Indian Idol contest two years ago, sang two songs-  opening and closing the presentations – in her powerful voice.

Cherivirala spoke about IACF’s commitment to education and how it has transformed its emphasis to scholarships again. He then introduced each student and asked a prominent member of the community to hand them their certificate. At the end, with all the students assembled, Cherivirala asked John Healy and Jim Rice to pose with an oversized check for the $25,000 that the IACF had committed to the scholarships.

Kamala Raghavan, the President-Elect closed out the presentations with an invitation to all to come to the IACF Gala on September 20. The evening continued on with DJ Yogi pumping out some music that had a dozen people dancing on the side, others playing the tables and many more milling around till the event closed out.

IACF 2014 Scholarship Recipients & Goals

JB Cameau: Willowridge HS; University of Texas at San Antonio, Music Education.

Jenny Chang: Elkins HS, University of Houston, UT Health Sciences, Nursing.

Daniyal Muhammad: Dulles HS, University of Houston, Chemical Engineering.

Jasmine Felder: Kempner High School, Lamar University, University of North Texas, Fashion Marketing.

Emily Garza: Austin High School, Texas Woman’s University, Nursing.

Morgan Hardin: Dulles High School, University of Houston, Neurosurgeon.

Efiom ita: Travis High School, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Aeronautical Science.

Alma Martinez: Elkins High School, Texas A & M University, Psychology.

Ashley Mhlanga: Clements High School, University of North Texas, Chemistry.

Habiba Omosun: George Bush High School, Sam Houston State University, open a Seniors Retirement Community.

Sean Rivera: Austin High School, University of Texas at San Antonio, Elementary School Teacher.

Megan Tu: Kempner High School, University of Houston, Political Science.

Dennis Valle: Willowridge High School, University of Houston, Biology.

Ta’lour Williams: Bush High School, Baylor College,  Lawyer.

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