Every year, MCL Construction and its employees embark on a 48-hour marathon sprint to erect a dilapidated Bayou mansion, filled with cobwebs and carts for the dead.
It’s a volunteer mission that unites the company’s carpenters and engineers in a frenzy of work, culminating in one giant Halloween bash/fundraiser.
Some companies may bond over cake and coffee in a conference room, but MCL’s employees cultivate esprit de corps over graveyards and swamp-themed bars that form the haunted mansion-backdrop used for the company’s “Scare Away Cancer” fundraiser.
“Everybody does their corporate outings, where you get together and sing Kum Ba Yah. But, we get together once a year to throw one &#%!@?! great party. This is our bonding experience,” said Travis Justice, MCL’s marketing director, as he showed off a video hologram of skeletons.
MCL Construction is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with a series of stories that highlight the company’s commitment to both its future and its community.
Scare Away Cancer is definitely about the company’s commitment to its community.
"To watch a 16-year old find out she was getting a car was emotional for everyone in the room," said Ebert. "The Robak family has been through so much, at Scare Away Cancer they made 340 new friends."
The costume ball is MCL’s biggest fundraiser/night of the year. It is a mammoth project that MCL volunteers work on throughout the year, starting two months after the last ball is completed. There is nothing stale about this party, as organizers work to make it bigger and better every single year.
The party has its roots in managerial training.
Seven years ago, Tyler Dunklau, an MCL project manager, took part in a leadership training program with the Associated General Contractors. As part of the program, Dunklau had to come up with a community project.
Dunklau sought help and guidance from Tony Fucinaro, a senior vice president with MCL who could give Martha Stewart a run for her money in the party planning department.
Let’s just say when it comes to “Scare Away Cancer,” Fucinaro earns his nickname as the “Party Diva.”
“We had all kinds of hair-brained ideas that first year - tubing down a river, a bonfire on a farm,” recalled Fucinaro. “They involved a lot of red-neck games.”
The two men eventually settled upon a Halloween-themed party to raise money for cancer patients, in part, because an MCL employee had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. They also decided to hold the party at Anthony’s Steakhouse, which is owned by Fucinaro’s family.
“We’re adults and we don’t get many opportunities to dress up and be kids again,” said Fucinaro.
About 300 people came to the first party, but many of them were family and friends recruited to fill the tables. Today, the party has been officially sold out for three years in a row, and tickets are now only offered to those who attended in the past.
As for the money, it too has grown exponentially over the past seven years. In the first year, $30,000 was raised. That grew to $60,000 in the second year until it finally hit $159,000 in 2016.
This year, close to $180,000 was raised – a record.
“We had no idea what we were doing that first year but, afterwards, we knew we had to do it again,” said Paula Ebert, MCL’s office manager.
A key to the party’s success has been the loyalty of its key donors, Ebert and several others said. Eight companies – many of them connected to the construction trade – have loyally supported the fundraiser from the start.
“We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the support of these people and these companies,” said Ebert.
The eight major sponsors: J.R. Barger & Sons, Electric Company of Omaha, Prairie Mechanical, T. Hansen Construction, Allied Construction Services, Omaha Lancers, McGill Asbestos and Peitzmeier Demolition.
Party planning is a yearlong process that starts in January, when a core group of about seven volunteers begin to meet once a month to go over what worked and what didn’t work in the last party.
By June, they’re meeting once a week, working to implement new ideas and scenery. By the time the party rolls around, 30 to 40 MCL volunteers will gather for 12-hour days to assemble the decorations and scenery over a two-day period.
This includes putting together an entire barn-like frame known as the carriage house, where guests enter the haunted mansion.
“The carpenters try to create a new scene every year,” said Fucinaro.
It is safe to say that Fucinaro is the driving creative force behind the party, who is always pushing for more decorations and more scenery to accompany the Bayou Mansion theme.
They don’t call him the “Party Diva” for nothing.
This year, he and his carpenter crew added a fireplace into the mix. Two years ago, they erected a huge tent on the side of Anthony’s restaurant, where the graveyard is now located.
Fucinaro isn’t happy with the status quo. Every year, Fucinaro comes up with something new: a glow-in-the-dark tunnel, ghostly holograms that fly through the headstones and buzzards on trees.
“You get a picture in your head and you try to make it real,” said Fucinaro. “We’re really trying to put people in a different place.”
He’s already thinking about next year, mulling over an idea of a book case with a revolving door. “My ultimate goal is to bring fire into this event” Fucinaro said.
“Now you see why most people run away when they see me. They don’t know what I’m going to have them do next.” Fucinaro added.
The goal of the party has always been about raising cash for cancer patients and/or cancer programs.
In the first couple of years, MCL turned to Methodist Hospital Foundation to help distribute the money to patients and/or their families in need.
Today, they distribute money with the help of several health-care organizations, including Children’s Hospital, Nebraska Medicine and Catholic Health Initiatives.
Often, these organizations will recommend a family in need and the “Scare Away Cancer” board will cut a check for $5,000 to $10,000.
“We can turn a check around in 24 hours. I guarantee you there are few nonprofits who can turn a check around that quickly,” said Justice.
In addition, MCL Construction chooses one pediatric cancer patient each year to invite to the party. This year, they chose Rachel Robak, who is battling Hodgkins Lymphoma and whom was shocked to be awarded a convertible on Saturday.
Finally, the dollars raised at Scare Away Cancer also goes to the Inner Beauty Salon at Methodist Hospital. The salon helps fit people undergoing chemotherapy with wigs, while also providing skin care and prosthetics for cancer patients.
Last year, 86 people were provided help at the Inner Beauty Salon thanks to a $12,000 donation from the fundraiser. “We will probably do that every year because we can help so many people,” said Justice.
After seven years, MCL Construction and its volunteer crew have no plans to slow down. They will soon be working on finding new ways to amuse their guests.
“I don’t know how, but we have to push ourselves. We always have to find new ways to shock ourselves,” said Fucinaro.
30-Year Reflection Series
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