At Central Arizona College’s annual A Night of Stars fundraiser, the real stars were the Pinal County high school seniors who will benefit from a free education at the community college come this fall.
Yes, there were big-name stars, including the Brown Brothers – Gabriel and Nate, who were finalists on Season 17 of “America’s Got Talent.” They entertained the 189 paid guests for 30 minutes.
And there were politicos and high rollers, engaging in raffles and auctions to raise funds for the foundation, which provides free tuition to every high school senior in the county who wants to attend CAC.
But it is those students who are the real stars, the beneficiaries of the gala on Feb. 10 at the Windmill Winery Lake House in Florence.
Craig Kurtz, the new executive director of the CAC Foundation, said the gala raised more than $43,000, which will go toward 80 endowed scholarships as well as Pinal Promise, the program that sends any graduating senior in the county to CAC.
“It was awesome. It was fun, a lot of fun, a nice introduction to Pinal County for me since I started in August,” Kurtz said. “We had great entertainment, but above all, the evening was successful.”
A Night of Stars provides a sizable chunk of the $350,000 the foundation spends annually on scholarships. The remainder is raised primarily from donors, including those who attended the gala.
Kurtz pointed out the success of the evening was even greater given that it occurred during one of the biggest weekends in the Valley, during the WM Phoenix Open and the Super Bowl.
“So it was excellent turnout considering,” Kurtz said. “That didn’t seem to deter anybody.
“I can’t think of a better way to raise money for Pinal County rural Arizona kids, helping these families with their kids, just helping them get through college with the least amount of debt they can.”
For some, it changes a family cycle of no higher education.
“We’re out at all of the high schools in our recruiting efforts,” Kurtz said. “Our president wants to create a world-class experience here at Central Arizona College for our learners. My goal is to raise as much money as I can and get as many Pinal County students here as I can, and then provide them the best experience we can.”
Kurtz, himself, knows the importance of community colleges. A graduate of Tucson Salpointe Catholic High, he began his higher education journey at Pima College enroute to a career in executive positions in the restaurant industry and with Boy and Girls Clubs before he came to CAC last August.
“I’m a community-college kid, so I understand how important the community-college system is to students,” Kurtz said.
Among the CAC facilities is the Maricopa Campus at 17945 N. Regent Drive.
Mayor Nancy Smith, who attended A Night of Stars, said she regards it as an essential asset.
“It’s important to Maricopa because it allows our college-bound high school seniors the ability to go to college at CAC for no cost when meeting the performance goals,” Smith said. “And because we have a CAC campus in Maricopa, they can do so without leaving home.”
Donations to the Central Arizona College Foundation may be made online at centralaz.edu or mailed to Central Arizona College Foundation, Signal Peak Campus, 8470 N. Overfield Road, Coolidge, AZ 85128.
Through the lens of photographer Victor Moreno, here are the sights from A Night of Stars.