At the New Yorkers for Children fall gala on Thursday night in Manhattan, one of the event’s honorees recalled how she started her life in the child welfare system herself.
Nancy Jarecki — a beauty entrepreneur who serves on the organization’s board — told a starry crowd including Paul Rudd, Uma Thurman and Mariska Hargitay, the moving story of how she was adopted in Kansas.
The night raised over $1 million to help the city’s kids aging out of foster care. (Jarecki is an artist and former media exec whose husband, Andrew, directed the groundbreaking HBO series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” He also cofounded Moviefone in the ’90s before selling the company to AOL with his partners for $388 million.)
“I am Nancy Jarecki, that’s what people call me today,” Jarecki said at the gala where her husband was also an honoree.
But, she said, “In 1964, when I was born in Kansas, I was called something completely different. Back then I was Denny Lee Livingston,” she said. “That’s the name my birth mother gave me when she realized at 19 she wasn’t in a position to care for me.”
Jarecki told of how she was transferred to a group home, the Kansas Children’s Service League in Topeka, where, “I benefited from the services the state provided.”
She told the audience at the Altman Building in Chelsea: “As I later learned I was fortunate to be assigned a cool, caring social worker by the name of Ethel Funston.” And while, “Ethel knew me only as ‘Baby Livingston’… she had a lot of responsibility for nurturing me in those first few months and sprucing me up” for various potential adoptive families that came to visit.
In a sweetly humorous anecdote, Jarecki revealed, “True story… to attract the right parental match for me, one of Ethel’s procedures was to dress me in a beautiful infant presentation gown, with a matching bonnet. How could anyone resist a baby with a gown and a bonnet?”
When a couple decided to adopt “Baby Livingston,” “Ethel explained to them,” Jarecki related, that they’d have to bring some clothes for their new infant since the “fancy presentation gown would not be going home with them.”
“When the adoption was complete, I would leave the state’s custody, leaving my gown behind, and off we would go…. Baby Livingston would soon be Nancy Louise Frye,” she said.
“The one thing they do let you keep is the bonnet,” she added before producing the adorable hat from below the podium for the crowd to see.
Jarecki, who has been involved with New Yorkers for Children for years, reflected, “I was so fortunate for so many things that went right for me… the group home was really nice, I visited several times as an adult. I was so lucky to have been assigned Ethel Funston… I was especially lucky to have adoptive parents… I did not have the challenge of aging out in foster care.”
She added, “I keep this bonnet near me to remind me where I came from, and what I was able to bring with me along my way. For me it symbolizes consistency — the things that we rely on that keep us moving forward on our journey through life,” and she hoped that the young folks the org helps, “New Yorkers for Children can be your bonnet.”
Andrew’s brothers are filmmakers Eugene and Nicholas Jarecki, and his father, Henry, who attended the awards, is a renowned Yale Medical School professor and psychiatrist who was also a pioneer in computerized commodities trading.
Also at the gala were “The Bourne Identity” screenwriter Tony Gilroy, Steely Dan rocker Donald Fagan, Jill Kargman and Griffin Dunne, as well as vice chancellor for student affairs at CUNY, Dr. Denise Maybank.
When Andrew gave Nancy a glowing introduction, she muttered comically as she took the podium, “Someone’s getting lucky tonight” to laughter from the crowd.
Nancy helped drum up funds at the auction, including joking to the deep-pocketed crowd, “During the auction part of the evening, a lot of people go to the bathroom.”
Alan Yu, executive director of New Yorkers For Children of the event, said: “New York City is home to about 6,500 youth in foster care and we know that these young people are at risk of adverse outcomes, but those outcomes are not inevitable… At a time when so much feels out of our control, New Yorkers for Children has an eminently achievable mission to put a brighter future within reach of our city’s children and young people, and I know we are on the right trajectory.”