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RO Foundation to celebrate 10th anniversary of fundraiser

A decade of shaking

Submitted Photo This year's Little Black Dress Party takes place on Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. at Shorewood Country Club, with food provided by local restaurants and caterers and music by DJ Joe.

Not everyone is prepared for the cost of unexpected emergencies that involve traveling to and from hospitals near and far. Rising gasoline prices, long-term hotel stays and meals can add up quickly, “And it’s even tougher when you have a mortgage and bills waiting for you at home,” added Maggie Owen, co-founder of the Russo/Owen Foundation.

She and co-founder Joseph C. Russo Jr., who passed away in 2014, had first-hand experience with this dilemma, which is why they formed the RO Foundation in 2010. On Friday at Shorewood Country Club, the foundation is hosting its 10th annual Shake on the Lake Little Black Dress Party — their biggest fundraiser of the year — to raise money for local families faced with unexpected transportation expenses.

“My mother had been dealing with an illness for 15 years,” Owen explained. “About every other year, she had to go to Pittsburgh for surgery, which involved us staying out there for almost a week at a time, which is very expensive between hotels, food and gas. But it was so important for us to be with her so she wasn’t alone and so we could go to doctor’s appointments with her.”

Owen explained that Russo was in a similar situation, as he had a kidney transplant, which required multiple treatments in Cleveland, Ohio. “His life experience and my experience — him as a patient and me as a caretaker — inspired us to join forces to help other people in our same situations.”

Since 2010, the foundation has helped defray travel costs for hundreds of local families that are traveling for medical treatments like chemotherapy, dialysis and rehab throughout the region and as far away as California. The organization provides applicants with gas and Visa gift cards to use for transportation costs. “We’ve been so successful with our events and fundraisers that we’ve been able to increase the radius of people we help from 20 miles from Dunkirk to 25 miles,” said Owen.

Submitted Photo RO Foundation co-founders Maggie Owen and the late Joe Russo created the Little Black Dress Party fundraiser to support area families who need assistance paying for treatment-related travel costs.

Once approved, applicants can receive $350 in Visa/gas cards, which they can reapply for every six months if they are still traveling for treatments. “Originally, that amount was $250, and we’re really excited that we could increase it to $350,” said Owen. She estimated that the foundation has given approximately $90,000 worth of gas/Visa cards over the past 10 years.

“Many of our applicants are returning applicants still receiving treatment,” she explained. “We’re sad that they have to come back, but glad we can help them. This community just continues to come together and support us every year.”

Owen invites all to come out for a great cause and a fun night out Friday at the Little Black Dress Party, which takes place from 7 to 11 p.m. at Dunkirk’s Shorewood Country Club. “Over the years, we’ve done a Great Gatsby theme, a disco theme and a Parisian theme,” Owen explained. “Because it’s the 10th anniversary, we went back to the Little Black Dress theme out of nostalgia. This year’s sponsors are Shorewood Country Club and Shults Resale Center of Dunkirk.”

In addition to delicious food provided by Aloe Vera, La Casa D’Mangia, Mary’s Deli, Shorewood Country Club, Super Duper catering and Tuscany, guests can enjoy music by DJ Joe. A cash bar will be available, and a specialty drink and glass will be sold to benefit the Joseph C. Russo scholarship fund. Owen said this year features an impressive array of raffle prizes including two Adirondack chairs with a matching table, a Yeti cooler, a fire pit, a beautiful necklace from Kirk’s Jewelers and more.

The event takes place rain or shine under a large tent, the covered patio and inside the main lobby of Shorewood. “We’ve had anywhere from 250 to 500 people attend,” said Owen. “For two years in a row, we had 500 people. This year, we have a lot of table sponsors, which we’re thrilled about. The businesses and individuals who support us are just amazing. We’re so grateful, and we couldn’t do this without them.”

Pre-sale tickets are $20 and can be purchased from Owen (785-2164), Dot Russo (785-2889) or Jill Zappie (785-8677) and will be $25 at the door. To learn more about the RO Foundation and access an application for financial assistance, visit www.rofoundation.com.

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