Millionaire Raises Funds For People's Inaugural Ball

Emily Miller and Elaine webber at the People's Inaugural Ball i i

hide captionEmily Miller, left, and Elaine Webber, from the N Street Village in Washington, D.C., were guests at the People's Inaugural Ball, sponsored by philanthropist Earl Stafford.

Pam Fessler/NPR
Emily Miller and Elaine webber at the People's Inaugural Ball

Emily Miller, left, and Elaine Webber, from the N Street Village in Washington, D.C., were guests at the People's Inaugural Ball, sponsored by philanthropist Earl Stafford.

Pam Fessler/NPR

Washington was a party town Tuesday night. In addition to the official inaugural balls, there were countless unofficial events in crowded restaurants or church basements. Virginia businessman Earl Stafford and his nonprofit foundation made it possible for hundreds of disadvantaged people to attend the People's Inaugural Ball.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We've just finished a night full of parties in a city that is not particularly known for them, Washington, D.C. There were 10 official Inaugural Balls plus countless unofficial events, from crowded restaurants to church basements. And there was also glitz for people who don't usually get much. NPR's Pam Fessler followed a group of women getting ready for one party.

PAM FESSLER: The women from the End Street Village Shelter in Washington aren't the usual kind of people who go to Inaugural Balls, most were homeless or drug addicts before they came here for help. Many are at a low point in their lives but not this week.

Unidentified Women #1: (Singing) going to the Ball, and we are going to have fun.

FESSLER: That's women at End Street Village on their way to pick out Inaugural gowns last Sunday. They were among 300 disadvantaged people, invited by Virginia businessman Earl Stafford to be his guests at the Peoples' Inaugural Ball. Stafford's charitable foundation spent $1.6 million to make the event possible. He even set up a boutique with donated formal wear.

Unidentified Woman #2: And these are in-street dealers.

FESSLER: Volunteers tried to keep order as dozens of anxious men and women lined up to pick out dresses and suits for the Ball.

Unidentified Woman #3: Ya'll just hold on, because we're trying to keep our groups together, so ya'll can go in there and ooh and ah together.

Unidentified Woman #4: Ooh, it's so beautiful.

FESSLER: The boutique was filled with racks of colorful beaded gowns and tables covered with jewelry, purses, and shoes with spiky heels.

Ms. BOBBY HENDERSON(ph): Oh, look at these shoes. Oh, my goodness. I'm in heaven.

FESSLER: Bobby Henderson turned to End Street Village for shelter after she got sick and lost her home in July. But here she and the others were looking for that perfect outfit.

Ms. HENDERSON: This feel better than the blue one.

Unidentified Female #4: Yes, I like those.

Ms. HENDERSON: Yes, so we'll take these.

Unidentified Female #5: OK.

FESSLER: Betty Brentley(ph) picked out a pair of black and silver sandals to match the white-beaded dress she'd selected with the help of a volunteer.

Ms. BETTY BRENTEY: Thank you so very much. Thank you.

Unidentified Female #6: Why don't you get a pocket book? And some jewelry.

Ms. BRENTLEY: I can still get some jewelry and a purse?

Unidentified Female #6: Yes.

FESSLER: Brentley lost her job two years ago and has spent some time living on the streets. She says now she felt like Cinderella.

Ms. BRENTLEY: A beautiful dress, beautiful shoes. A chance to get your hair done and everything, but I guarantee when we walk in here we're going to feel like the belle of the ball.

FESSLER: And indeed, last night, the End Street Village women were among the belles at a very elegant Ball. Just two blocks from the White House, hundreds of tuxedoed men and women in long gowns filled the hotel ballroom. Many here were high-end donors mingling with hurricane survivors and the mentally disabled. Stafford said he wanted to bring all kinds of people together to celebrate the Inauguration and Betty Brentley couldn't have been happier.

Ms. BRENTLEY: Nobody knows who we are. You know, nobody knows who we are. They don't know where we come from. All they know is we got on a gown, we're in this crowd and we're with the best of the best right now. And what a feeling that is.

FESSLER: She and the other women said it was a fitting tribute to the Inauguration of Barack Obama who's promised to give people like them some hope. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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