VACAVILLE — Beauty queens joined a who’s who of Vacaville at Monday’s fundraiser for Opportunity House – praised by keynote speaker Tonya Suniga as the place that changed her life.
“I thought my life was over because I had no family,” said Suniga, who was homeless at 18.
Drugs led to a life that spiraled out of control and time in prison when, in 2010, the homeless shelter in Vacaville transformed her.
“I felt loved for the first time,” said Suniga, 41. “I really had a family for the first time and I was not going to let them down.”
Her mother died when Suniga was 6 years old and she went to live with relatives indifferent to her, Suniga told the audience of about 350 people at the Festival of Trees Gala. Opportunity House included chores and a routine, she said. “I made it work,” said the Vacaville resident, who has been at the same job for four years, started taking computer classes and joined a church.
“I owe it all to God, New Focus and the Opportunity House,” Suniga said. The New Focus program at Community Presbyterian Church helps families and individuals through financial mentoring and goal-setting.
The gala at the Vacaville Skating Center begins the Festival of Trees that is the primary fundraiser for Opportunity House. The shelter has received $1.5 million in the past 22 years from the fundraiser. The 2012 event brought $114,000 for Opportunity House. The festival showcases 50 fully decorated Christmas trees and 50 mini-trees. Bidding on trees through a silent auction ends at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Trees are to be delivered Saturday morning, free of charge.
Elicia Stewart, Mrs. Vacaville, and Skye Kucala, Miss Teen Vacaville, were among beauty queens greeting guests at the gala and escorting them to their seats. Kucala, 17, who wants to become a registered nurse, said her family has long donated toys and clothing to Opportunity House.
She said Vacaville comes together for the holidays.
“There’s nothing like the downtown spirit,” Kucala said.
Stewart, who’ll attend the Merriment on Main event Tuesday in downtown Vacaville and the Christmas tree lighting Friday in Fairfield, said her role as Mrs. Vacaville “is a great opportunity to represent married women.”
Chris Vasquez helped organize the gala and said “the who’s who of Vacaville comes out for this event.”
The Fellowship of Ringers from Community Presbyterian Church of Vacaville provided Christmas music, as did the choir from Vacaville Christian School. Mindy Aagaard of Sweet Marie Photography took photos of arriving couples and said stopping for a photographer is part of the fun of the gala.
“The little step and repeat makes you feel like a VIP,” Aagaard said.
Dawn Kincade served on the decor committee for the gala and said the event is pure Vacaville.
“You get to the heart of the city,” she said. “You get everybody working together toward a common good.”
Dilenna Harris, vice mayor of Vacaville, said the caring is a core value here.
“It’s just a basic of DNA of Vacaville citizens,” Harris said. “A community is built on people who care about each other. Otherwise it’s just a city.”
Dodhi Gomez, 79, of Vacaville, was at her first gala.
“It’s more than I expected,” she said. “It’s a wonderful occasion.”
Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.