By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — One of the Mankato area’s most visible nonprofits is hoping a little change can spice up their annual major fundraiser.
One Bright Star, the group that offers support to families who have lost a child, has discontinued its annual gala event and is embarking on what it is betting will be an exciting new fundraiser: a casino night with poker, blackjack and other games. Not for money. Just for fun.
“We wanted to add a fun theme, more of a positive experience,” said Cassi Wanous, One Bright Star’s new executive director. “We don’t want it to be a sad time. We wanted to do something a little different.”
Because of the theme change, and because they got started a little later than usual, Wanous said they haven’t had the same response they’ve had in years past. They’re hoping that, with a little publicity, things will change.
“Change” has actually been a common theme for One Bright Star. Sue Ostendorf left as executive director, which left a vacancy. Wanous came along at the right time and was able to step in to fill that role.
Not that she wanted to be able to.
Two years ago she gave birth to twins, Landon and Kolton. Both had contracted an infection called necrotizing intercolitis. But Landon had it first, and by the time doctors discovered it, it was too late. Eventually he died. Kolton suffered, too. But doctors were able to save him.
In the aftermath, a funeral director gave the Wanous family a grieving journal provided by One Bright Star. Until that point, Wanous said, all she really knew about the organization was that they had a memorial in Ray Erlandson Park.
Eventually she was invited to the annual celebration, and they purchased a plaque and paver to add to the many already at the memorial. And when a spot opened up on the One Bright Star board of directors, she joined.
“I stay home with my son, so it was something for me to put my time in for something for Landon as well,” she said.
Eventually, she became the executive director. It was an easy decision to take a leadership role with an organization that has meant so much to her family.
“One Bright Star was really helpful in seeing that we weren’t alone, that there were other people going through this,” Wanous said. “It’s not a club you want to be a part of, but to see there were others was helpful.”
While the leadership has changed, the mission has not. The group still strives to make life a little easier for families that have lost a child.
The casino night is set for March 2, but pre-registration ends today. So call them. Today.