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Second annual Island Gala to benefit Onyx & Breezy Foundation

By Staff | Mar 24, 2011

Onyx and Breezy (as portrayed by Margaret Pietruk and Elena Urlea), with sponsor and boardmember Trasi Sharp, boardmember Peter Beck, co-founder Wanda Shefts and sponsor and boardmember Liza Clouse.

This Sunday, during the 2nd annual Island Gala, animal lovers from near and far will unite at The Sanctuary Golf Club to support a special cause that promotes the well-being of domestic animals — and the people that love them.

The Onyx & Breezy Foundation, created in 2004 by part-time islanders Wanda and Mark Shefts to honor the memory of their two labrador retrievers, assists domestic animals in a variety of ways, including providing financial support to the funding of equipment for medical facilities, much needed research and organizations that benefit animals, medical treatment for animals where hardship is present as well as other endeavors that benefit the welfare of animals.

“When Onyx and Breezy passed away, we were all devastated. But we thought, how much more devastated would someone be if they couldn’t do everything they could to save the lives of their animals? That’s why we started the Onyx & Breezy Foundation,” said Mark Shefts.

“Fortunately, we could afford to take care of our animals when their health was failing — but what if we couldn’t?” Wanda added. “Too many people go with putting down their animals because it’s cheaper, and then they go and pick up another animal at the pet store. It’s just not right.”

“So, we set up a small fund, and from that, it exploded into this full foundation,” Mark said. “We have over 30 people on the board, four vets advising us and lots of volunteers.”

Island Paws owner (and Onyx & Breezy boardmember and Island Gala sponsor) Liza Clouse sells these umbrellas for $15 in her store. The proceeds benefit the Shefts’ foundation.

Over the years, the Foundation has given money to organizations as large as the New York-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), as small as the Winging Cat Rescue in Southside, Ala. and many pet rescue facilities, shelters and foster programs in between.

“I might be a big, tough business guy, but I read some of these letters and I get tears in my eyes, because we’re helping people all over the country when euthanasia seems to be the only option for their animal,” Mark said.

The Shefts established the foundation with money out of their own pockets, but as the foundation gains momentum, more and more sponsors — such as Island Paws, Lily & Co. and Kay Casperson — are starting to climb aboard.

“We go into a fundraising event assuming we’re getting no help. I want to be able to look people in the eye and assure them that if they donate to our cause, 100 percent of their money will go to helping the animals,” Mark said. “The more money we raise, the more animals — and people — we can help.”

But none of the foundation’s accomplishments would have been possible without the money the Shefts collect throughout the during their many fundraisers, the biggest and longest-running event being the grand, black-tie gala the Shefts host every October in New Jersey.

Surrounded by their dogs Shadow, Rio and Tuxie, Mark and Wanda Shefts created The Onyx & Breezy Foundation in 2004. They split their time between residences in Sanibel and Tuxedo Park, N.Y.

“We’ve been on the island for about four years, and because it’s such a giving island, last year, we decided to give the fundraiser a go on Sanibel,” Mark said.

And fortunately, the first Island Gala was a hit — so popular, in fact, that the Shefts had to turn people away because Ellington’s Jazz Bar & Restaurant, last year’s venue, filled up so quickly.

But this year, the Island Gala will be held at the Sanctuary Golf Club, ensuring plenty of space for animal lovers who want to contribute to the Onyx & Breezy Foundation — and have a great time doing it.

“Wanda plans these events like weddings and she makes it a real party. We’ve been to too many boring fundraisers where everyone has to sit through all these long speeches — we want people to have fun, and when they leave, we want them to already be looking forward to next year’s event,” Mark said. “We still have ticket orders coming in and we already have more people attending than last year.”

As part of the Island Gala festivities — which includes an open bar, three-course meal, music, dancing, and live and silent auctions — award-winning comedienne Wendy Liebman will provide guests with entertainment for the evening. In addition, actor Ken Howard, national spokesman and executive board member for The Onyx and Breezy Foundation, will be in attendance.

Mark and Wanda Shefts attended the 2011 Screen Actors Guild Awards with SAG President Ken Howard and his wife, Linda.

“These days, people want to know where and how their donations are being spent,” said Howard, who was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 2009. “You can feel comfortable knowing your dollars are going to the care of the animals that so desperately need it.”

Last year, the Island Gala raised $47,000 — every cent of which went directly back into the Onyx & Breezy Foundation to help domestic animals in Lee County. The money raised during this year’s event will be used the same way.

“I couldn’t do it without all my board members and volunteers. This foundation is a joint venture, and it wouldn’t have been possible without all the people that support this cause,” Wanda said. “Even when I couldn’t rub two nickels together, I always tried to give back in some way, and I keep doing it because if I don’t, who will? These animals add so much value to our lives — who will speak for them if we don’t? We can’t save them all, but we can try.

“This is my motto — I’ve never worked harder, it’s never cost us more money and I’ve never been happier in my life,” she continued. “It’s truly how I feel.

Sponsors of the Second Annual Island Gala, including the Shefts, are Specialists In Veterinary Surgery of Estero, Lily & Co. Jewelers, Over Easy Café, Island Paws, Kay Casperson Lifestyle Spa-Boutique and Bailey’s General Store.

Comedienne Wendy Liebman has appeared on "Late Show with David Letterman," "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and "Comic Relief VII."

If you can’t attend the Island Gala, but would like to donate to the Onyx & Breezy Foundation, the Shefts are always looking for silent auction items for future events and, of course, monetary donations are always needed.

There will also be a raffle this summer — which will raise $50,000 in ticket sales. Donation and raffle ticket information is available online.

Tickets to the Island Gala, which cost $150, are still available and may be purchased by calling 239-850-9998.

To learn more about the Onyx and Breezy Foundation and how you can donate, visit www.onyxandbreezy.org — and don’t forget to friend them on Facebook!

Jeff Lysiak contributed to this story