Twenty years ago, a man begged Henry Buhl for $20 on the streets of New York. Henry recognized the man as a former street sweeper who had worked near his office. Henry discovered the man had been fired for sleeping on the job and decided to look into the situation. Local stores had been paying this man to keep the neighborhood neat. Henry volunteered to find a new street cleaner and went to the Bowery Residence Committee to try to recruit one. They recommended two people, so Henry asked the local merchants to kick in more and hired them both. Two lead to three led to four and the SoHo Partnership was born.
Fast forward two decades and an elegant crowd of hundreds is gathered for dinner at Sotheby's to honor Harry and his vision and to contribute generously to keep the program going. Renamed ACE along the way for "Association of Community Employment," the organization is one of the most prominent programs for the homeless in the United States.
Last week, ACE celebrated 20 years of empowering the homeless and improving communities with a star-studded gala. The evening began with a display of photographs from the collection of ACE founder Henry Buhl, which will be auctioned at Sotheby's in December. Emcee and Good Day NY co-host Rosanna Scotto was among the guests who sipped cocktails and browsed through ACE's silent auction items. The evening's honorees included Denise Rich, Russell Simmons, Tony Goldman, Cynthia Wainwright, Steve Tanger and Jessye Norman. Other big names connected to the event included Steve Forbes, Tinsley Mortimer and Countess Luann de Lesseps from The Real Housewives of New York City. Previous honoree and strong supporter Bonnie Preifer Evans also attended.
The main dining area was fancifully decorated to resemble the streets of Downtown Manhattan -- paper traffic lights hung from the ceilings, table numbers were replaced with street signs and images of gridlocked taxis were projected on the walls. Rosanna kicked off the festivities by introducing opera singer Jessye Norman, who wowed us with her rendition of God Bless America, followed by hilarious performance from comedian Stewie Stone -- I laughed out loud. Awards were presented to both Jessye and the real estate firm of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank.
ACE executive director Jim Martin both delivered inspiring speeches highlighting the progress of the program over its 20-year history. Jim then introduced 2010 ACE graduate 'Danny W.' Danny spoke of his 30-year struggle with addiction and detailed how he finally bottomed out in 2007. After hitting rock bottom, he worked to overcome his drug problem, found his way to ACE in 2010 and became one of our sweetest success stories. Today Danny is clean and sober and has been gainfully employed for almost three years. His story was very poignant and there were few dry eyes in the house when Danny left the stage.
I sat with the elegant Sara Herbert-Galloway who co-chaired this year's gala with Lorraine Cancro. Sara told me:
Attending and ACE graduation ceremony is incredibly rewarding. It is moving beyond belief to hear the stories from the men and women who make it through their first year of the ACE program, clean and sober and find jobs. It is unbelievable what obstacles they overcome. Henry is a friend to many and I am honored to know him.
Henry Buhl is an iconic figure in New York City. Having worked to transform our streets and many of our least fortunate, he had much to say. Excerpts follow:
In the summer of 1992 I started the SoHo Partnership now ACE - the Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless. Twenty years is the longest I have had any activity.
My Buick Roadmaster lasted 19 years. My first marriage lasted 17 years. I collected hand photographs for 14 years. I was a wedding photographer for 12 years and a mutual fund manager for 11 years.
Today our homeless clients sweep in the Bronx, Times Square, the Meat Packing District and many more areas all with the goal of obtaining full-time jobs and permanent housing for them. Russell Simmons, another honoree tonight, was an early supporter when he signed up to support our fashion show - S.O.S. South of Seventh.
Many of you have asked why I am selling my hand photographic collection. Earlier this evening most of you saw selected pieces of the collection on the fifth floor. After the exhibition opened at the Guggenheim in 2004, the collection traveled to four major museums in Europe and three in Asia. It also was seen at 8 college museums and lots of smaller museums in the U.S. before going to the Guggenheim.
I am proud of my collection, but for the past five years I have had to re-double my efforts to raise funds for ACE and did not have time to devote to collecting. I could have donated my collection to a museum, but then it would sit in a warehouse. I want the collection exposed. By selling the collection individually and putting it on the walls of the buyers, the collection will be in a universal museum and the proceeds will be used to support ACE and other worthy causes.
The evening was a success and the crowd opened their hearts and wallets, contributing more than $87,000 from the auction alone. I heartily congratulate Henry Buhl for his tireless devotion to helping the homeless in New York City for two decades -- then contributing his private photography collection. Henry's selfless commitment to service is exemplary and we not only must tip our hat to him, but dig deep into our own pockets.
ACE: Association of Community Employment (Programs for the Homeless) Facebook (ACEprograms) and Twitter (@ACEnewyork)
Sotheby's will be auction off Henry Buhl's hand photographic collection Dec. 12-13 raise funds and awareness for ACE and other charities.
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