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Chattin: Ashley Bright

Ashley Bright, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming, poses for a portrait Wednesday outside the club's Casper location. The group is holding its annual breakfast fundraiser Wednesday.

In 21 years of hosting the Awards & Recognition Breakfast, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming has never attracted a crowd the size that is expected to gather Wednesday morning at the Casper Events Center.

Col. Oliver North is the featured speaker and Casperites Phil and Jody Schmidt are the honorees.

North served 22 years as a Marine after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968. He earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star for valor and two Purple Hearts for wounds in action. He played a key role in the release of American hostages from Lebanon in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan and helped plan the rescue of U.S. students on Grenada and the raids on Moammar Gadhafi’s terror bases. He is the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization serving wounded U.S. military personnel and their families.

North is also known for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, a scandal in the 1980s that involved the secret sale of weapons to Iran, with proceeds being used to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. He was president of the National Rifle Association, but did not seek a second term earlier this year after a public dispute with the group’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre.

Phil and Jody Schmidt have faced unfathomable tragedy in their personal lives, losing two sons, one at age 11 and one at age 29. Even so, their strength and perseverance in times of hardship have helped them empathize with others in similar pain.

They have raised six children while increasing their involvement in the community. Schmidt was president and majority owner of Greiner Motor Companies, while Jody is deeply involved with St. Anthony Church and St. Anthony Tri-Parish School, as well as on the boards of Interfaith and NAMI. A breast cancer survivor, she continuously asks for prayers for others ahead of herself.

There is much more to the agenda, so we chatted with BGCCW CEO Ashley Bright about the festivities.

Folks can still make a reservation? Absolutely. We are taking them right up through Tuesday. Five days out, we are sitting at 1,250, which will eclipse the previous largest attendance. People can call 235-4079 and we’ll reserve a seat for them. Doors open at 6:15, the buffet starts at 6:30 and the program starts at 7. The goal is to have everybody out by 8:45 a.m. We will try to make that.

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Tell us how you landed Col. North as speaker. We start working on a speaker in December-January and then from there, we create a short list of potential speakers. We send it to board members and the resource development committee and then work with seven or eight speakers’ bureaus on their time and availability. The colonel has been on our short list before, but the time and availability didn’t work out. Premiere Speakers Bureau has told us over the years he is their No. 1 fundraising speaker.

People seem very excited about this. The Wyoming Challenge Academy from Guernsey is coming in full force. They are extremely excited to have a military hero able to speak to them and interact with them.

And how are the honorees — Phil and Jody Schmidt this year — selected? That process is another short list. We send that out to all board members and past honorees and ask them to give us their top three on a list of 20. The past honorees’ votes count twice as much as board member votes. They surfaced to the top and we are extremely honored to recognize their contribution and leadership in the community, the state and beyond.

The Central Wyoming Youth of the Year is also revealed, right? Yes, Daney Tanner, a retired teacher from Roosevelt High School, will make the announcement, representing six judges. The competition and deliberation actually happened Sunday afternoon, but the announcement is not made until the breakfast.

And the Try Award is presented? Yes, Susie McMurry will present the annual Try Award to Lisa and Rocky Eades, who do amazing work with their nonprofit, Jason’s Friends Foundation, as well as far more behind the scenes work in the community as well.

And what are the breakfast proceeds earmarked for this year? This is for the Building Connections Initiative, which will relocate the Susie McMurry Tech Center from upstairs to downstairs at the main club, doubling the size of the technology opportunities for youth in central Wyoming.

And your reach just expanded some more? As of August 1, we acquired the Boys & Girls Club in Dubois. We now reach 3,500 members annually at 10 sites in four counties — Natrona, Converse, Johnson and Fremont. We are gearing up for an enormous morning raising significant dollars for our annual members and the thousands more youth in outreach through WyoTowne Financial Literacy and Cowboy Ethics in high schools and the juvenile detention center.

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Follow community news editor Sally Ann Shurmur on Twitter @WYOSAS

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Community News Editor

Sally Ann Shurmur arrived at the Star-Tribune to cover sports two weeks after graduating from the University of Wyoming and now serves as community news editor. She was raised in Laramie and is a passionate fan of Cowboys football, food and family.

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