Nocatee’s Crosswater Hall took on the feel of a glamorous Hollywood movie premiere April 21, as the Apryle Showers Foundation held its second annual benefit gala.
Guests clad in evening gowns and long gloves walked the red carpet and had their photos taken paparazzi-style before entering the Nocatee Room, which was decorated with stars, glitter, miniature award statuettes and numerous pink umbrellas symbolizing the foundation. An estimated 200 guests enjoyed a buffet by TacoLu, a dessert bar by Cinotti’s and the chance to bid on dozens of silent auction items at the gala, which was billed as an “adult prom.” Entertainment, meanwhile, was provided by the band Briteside, one of the evening’s co-sponsors.
Yet throughout the evening’s glitter and glitz, the woman who inspired both the foundation and its fundraising efforts was never far from attendees’ hearts and minds. Apryle Schmidt was just 37 years old when she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. Despite battling her illness courageously, she lost her fight in August 2015.
“Apryle was a Nocatee resident, so it’s been really important to us to have a presence here,” said Apryle’s friend, Lauren Stafford. “The point of tonight is to celebrate life. Apryle was such a vital person. She loved to dance – if she were here tonight, she’d be leading the dancing out on the floor.”
A cancer survivor herself, Stafford now serves as president of the board of the Apryle Showers Foundation, which provides healing, restorative getaways for people ages 30 to 55 who are battling cancer.
A healing getaway
The impetus for the Apryle Showers Foundation, organizers said, came from a similar getaway weekend that Apryle Schmidt received as a gift during her battle with cancer.
“The day-to-day reality of cancer can be frightening and grueling,” Apryle’s mother, Patricia Reinhardt, told gala attendees, listing the many doctor’s appointments, treatments and medications those battling cancer must manage, all while fighting for their lives. “The psychological impact and demands on the individual, their family and friends can be brutal.
“Now picture a weekend break from all that,” Reinhardt continued. “Apryle and her family were blessed with this type of gift. Her legacy is to provide that same experience for others.”
At the gala, guests had an opportunity to hear from two of the foundation’s beneficiaries, including Julie, a mother of five who went to the hospital after feeling nauseous for a few days, only to learn she had non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“Hearing I had cancer was super hard, but telling my grown children was the hardest,” Julie said. “Like most moms, I didn’t want help (from the foundation) – we’re used to being the ones who help everyone else. But boy, I’m glad I did.”
Through the Apryle Showers Foundation, Julie and her husband enjoyed a getaway to the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, where the couple rode bikes, went to the beach and for the first time had an opportunity to “get real” about her illness.
“I was always trying to be strong – for my kids, my family, my friends,” she said through tears. “(The getaway) was the first chance I had to just let go.”
Two-time cancer survivor Hope also enjoyed a getaway. Her dream was to swim with dolphins.
“It was an emotional experience for me, because I was dealing with all these issues but I was interacting with nature,” Hope said. “We had an excellent time.”
Foundation board member and cancer survivor Maria Salomon noted sadly that one of the foundation’s beneficiaries had died earlier that week, shortly after returning from her dream getaway to a jazz festival in Miami.
“We take it hard when we lose one of our beneficiaries,” said Salomon, adding that she gained comfort from knowing the woman was able to attend the festival as she had long dreamed.
Added Stafford: “Believe me, we never forget the people we work with. We pray for them and carry them in our hearts.”