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Kentucky Derby fundraiser to benefit counseling patients

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WATERTOWN — People who are uninsured or cannot afford a regular fee for therapy services at Family Counseling Service of Northern New York will be able to tap into financial assistance thanks to supporters of the agency’s upcoming Kentucky Derby fundraiser.

Beginning at 5 p.m. May 3 at the Italian-American Civic Association, 192 Bellew Ave., Family Counseling Service will host its fifth annual Kentucky Derby Day, an event that has numerous opportunities for the nonprofit to raise funds as people watch the 140th annual Kentucky Derby on television.

The agency served 313 self-paying clients in 2013. Last year’s derby event attracted 65 people and several sponsors who collectively raised more than $13,000.

“We’re down on sponsors,” said Lisa A. L’Huillier, event chairwoman and agency board member. “The trouble is there are so many people doing fundraisers, and businesses have a difficult decision what to support.”

While the agency is still accepting event sponsorship at levels of $200 and up, Ms. L’Huillier said she believes that co-hosts Johnny Spezzano and his fiancee, Heather Roux, will attract new faces. Ticket sales are up because of Mr. Spezzano’s promotion of the fundraiser, Ms. L’Huillier said.

Mr. Spezzano is a disc jockey with the Border 106.7 and chief executive officer of Yo-Johnny Frozen Yogurt. He said he and Ms. Roux are aware of how the agency has struggled financially, and they want to do their part to ensure the event is a success so clients receive assistance in paying for therapy sessions. They even sweetened the deal for a hat contest during the fundraiser; the woman and man who have the best derby-style hats will receive six months of Yo-Johnny frozen yogurt.

The connection to the derby itself is also close to Mr. Spezzano’s heart. He said his mother, who died of cancer in November, used to have a big Kentucky Derby party each year.

Ms. Roux said she has been busy collecting donations for the silent and live auctions and coming up with ways to make the event bigger and better. One of those ideas was inviting Brianna West, owner of Photography by Bri, who will take red carpet-style photographs as people enter the civic association. Aaron Hall Photography will have a photo booth inside. Attendees may purchase their photographs for a donation to the agency.

People may “own” a horse for $50 or a jockey for $25. The owners of whichever jockey and horse win the race will receive prizes. The two-minute horse race begins shortly after 6 p.m. Annie in the Water Band will entertain.

Pre-sale tickets are $20 each or $35 per couple. Tickets at the door will cost $25 each or $45 per couple. Those with military identification will get $2 off a ticket, or $5 off per couple. Admission includes hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Call Family Counseling Service at 782-4483, or Ms. L’Huillier at 783-2188 for more information.

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