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Mar 20, 2012 2:38 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Local Charities Team Up, Take The Spotlight On Casino Night

Mar 20, 2012 4:23 PM

The odds were certainly in Jean Mackenzie’s favor when she and Rose and John Dios decided to host a joint Casino Night in 2009 to benefit their not-for-profit charities—the Paul Koster Memorial Benefit, and the Have A Heart Community Trust.

Since then, the event has grown to be one of the most anticipated benefits of the spring—just last year, the two charities made approximately $15,000 to split between them.

This year, the excitement of a night in Las Vegas is coming to Southampton on Saturday at the “Viva Las Vegas” Casino Night at Seasons of Southampton. From 7 to 11 p.m., partygoers will gamble for a good cause that directly benefits the community.

Aiming to help further the education of Southampton Town high school seniors, the Paul Koster Memorial Benefit, which honors Ms. Mackenzie’s late husband, awards $1,000 scholarships to students who plan to continue their education, whether in college or at a trade school. The foundation also provides assistance to other community organizations such as Time For Teens, Southampton Youth Services and the Flying Point Foundation for Autism.

The Have A Heart Community Trust, founded by the Dioses in 1991, is essentially a “last resort” organization that caters to those in personal or financial crisis, Have A Heart President Bret Pahwul said. “We help people out with necessities like heating oil, food, clothing, shelter, and medical supplies.”

Although each organization has a slightly different focus, both are Southampton-based charities that aid those who need financial help either directly or through community service organizations. Have A Heart and the Paul Koster Foundation have been working to ensure that the community benefits as much as possible through their Casino Night, by soliciting donations of services, products, and time from local businesses and individuals.

“Every dollar that comes out of the event goes back into the community,” Ms. Mackenzie said. “Every waiter, cook, dishwasher and bus person donates their night for free and does not ask for payment. That’s why we want to see it successful—so they feel that their time is worth it too.”

Even though the majority of the night’s little highlights will be donated, the benefit planners hope to deliver an authentic casino experience.

With every $60 ticket purchased to enter the “Las Vegas” casino, which will be decorated with daisies and bright spring colors, each guest will receive $100 in casino chips. Although no one wins cash, there is a grand prize for the person with the most chips at the end of night, as well as a plethora of raffle and auction prizes and a smorgasbord of hors d’oeuvres.

“Jean is hands-down the best caterer in the area,” said artist Paton Miller, who is a board member of the Paul Koster Memorial Benefit. “The party alone is worth the entrance fee.”

Owner of Seasons of Southampton catering, the Clamman seafood market and Hamptons Caterers Showcase, Jean Mackenzie has a full plate. The Southampton resident began her not-for-profit organization in March 2001, a year after her husband died from injuries sustained in an accident involving a tractor. Ms. Mackenzie saw it fitting that the charity aids students, since Mr. Koster was an avid supporter of children—he could always be found on the sidelines cheering for the kids on the Southampton Youth Association soccer teams, and at the end of each season, he would cook for the SYA’s soccer banquet, Ms. Mackenzie said.

“He was a family man and community-minded,” Ms. Mackenzie recalled. “I thought, if he’s not here to do what he always did, let’s find a way to do it.”

Just last year, the Paul Koster Memorial Benefit gave $1,000 each to two Southampton students and $3,000 to Time for Teens to support the organization’s bereavement counseling.

“It was a considerable grant,” said Time For Teens founder Laraine Gordon. “Being an owner and executive director for a not-for-profit, we are eternally grateful to foundations who give us money to provide more services for teens who have had losses ... and it’s very much an East End service.”

For 12 years, the Paul Koster Memorial Benefit has been hosting Casino Nights to raise funds to give out to groups like Time For Teens, but in 2009 Ms. Mackenzie found a partner in Southampton residents Rose and John Dios.

The Dioses trace the creation of Have A Heart to a time more than two decades ago when they invited friends for a pasta dinner and asked them to bring a bag of groceries to support local food pantries. Since that first dinner, the trust has become a huge help to many organizations and people in need.

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A great event. I recommend it highly because there is no better feeling in the world then to help out people less fortunate than yourselves. The food is also first class. Good luck in raising the $20,000.
By bobalooey (45), East Quogue on Mar 20, 12 5:43 PM