The Exhibition Hall on the Du Quoin fairgrounds glittered Saturday night, literally and figuratively, as more than 400 of the most glamorous glitterati in the region entered a building transformed from an agricultural venue into "Casino Royale."
That was the theme for the 29th-annual Du Quoin Youth Center Charity Ball, and the Youth Club staff and committee in charge had really outdone themselves. If you squinted a little, you could almost imagine James Bond going head to head with LeChiffre, the banker-turned-terrorist, at the Casino Royale in Montenegro.
"I think people look forward to this event because it's a chance to get all dressed up and go out for the night, and it's all for a good cause," said Nicole Heape. She has worked at the Du Quoin Youth Club for almost 30 years, serving as the executive director for more than 10.
"It's a safe place for kids to go after school," she said.
Children are bused from the elementary and middle schools to the Youth Club, about 80 every school day. Parents pay $75 a year for membership, but Heape said no one is turned away, even if they can't pay.
"High school students help the kids with their homework, or we have several retired school teachers on staff who can," she said. "We have a big basketball program and flag football in the fall. The kids can participate in structured activities or just enjoy the game tables or the video games."
It truly is a win-win situation: Parents don't have to worry about their kids if they're at the Youth Club, and the kids love going.
"I was a Youth Club kid 30 years ago," said Keenan Rice, the host of the Charity Ball. "And now, my three children are Youth Club kids. I know of many second and third generations there. It's a great low-cost program that does so much good for the community."
Rice said the Youth Club gets grant money in addition to its membership fees, but the only way they can pay all of the bills -- the utilities alone can run more than $1,000 a month in the winter -- is through the support and generosity of the community. The proceeds from the annual Charity Ball are expected to be about $75,000 this year.
The event included hors d'oeuvres, dinner, drinks and dessert, several raffle drawings and auctions, casino games such as roulette and snake eyes, and music, live entertainment and dancing. Tickets cost $40.