Whether they wore Western duds or a touch of glam, guests at this year’s True Grit gala were indeed happy to be “back in the saddle again” with an in-person event honoring Third Way Center’s 50th anniversary. And admit it: Since 2020 we’ve all been missing the Heads or Tails game, right?

On Saturday, Oct. 16, more than 350 people gathered at Infinity Park Event Center for a Western, yee-haw Saturday night to support Third Way Center’s continued services. Footers Catering staff served passed hors d’oeuvres at the pre-dinner reception as guests had the opportunity to participate in Western-themed activities, including lassoing a bottle of wine, liquor or bubbly to take home. They also tested their skills by roping a stationary calf replica to earn assorted gift cards. Everyone made a point to mosey on over to the silent auction to browse and bid on an array of items.

Community Award recipient Mike Johnston (right), with (l to r): Seamus Johnston, Paul Markson, Emmet Johnston, wife Courtney Johnston and Avalon Johnston

A short dinner program featured this year’s Third Way Center Community Award recipient Mike Johnston. The former state senator and Third Way academy principal, an employee or board member since 1980, told the crowd about his own connection to and experience with Third Way Center. Brendan Bartic, emcee and board member–a former Third Way Center resident–moved the crowd with his personal experience and story of growth.

Also speaking briefly were: Brendan Zahl, of sponsor Community Banks of Colorado, presenting sponsor and board chair Gary Gray, executive director David Eisner and Third Way Center founder Hildegard Messenbaugh, M.D.. Then Jim Berz took the stage to lead a live auction beginning with (you guessed it) crowd favorite Heads or Tails, and the evening was capped off with dancing and music provided by DJ RipM. This year’s honorary event chair was board member Stacy Ohlsson.

Founder Hildegard Messenbaugh, M.D.

In celebration of Third Way’s 50th anniversary, and in response to last year’s COVID-conscious virtual gala, the 2021 “back in the saddle” theme not only represents the return to a live, in-person event, but also speaks to the resilient nature of Third Way’s youth who overcome adversity and failure, and refuse to give up. Third Way Center emphasizes that every donation is an investment in the next generation for family reunification, healthy minds and self-sufficient lives. Third Way Center continually adapts innovative science combined with dedicated mental health treatment for youth in need, allowing growth and healing to begin.

Adolescents make their way to Third Way Center from a variety of backgrounds, often from foster care, youth corrections or homelessness. The organization’s goal is to break the cycle of trauma by helping young teens discover their own path to success. Statistics show that in its 50 years Third Way Center has served 5,000-plus teens with more than 500,000 hours of therapy sessions, resulting in a successful education component: 79 percent earn a diploma or GED. To learn more, please visit: https://thirdwaycenter.org/ .