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Coast Young Professionals hosts 8th Black Tie and Blue Jeans gala

JESSICA TILLMAN/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD 
 Mei-Li Hernandez (event co-chair), Olivia Munn (Coast Young Professionals director) and Katie Widdows (event co-chair) at the CYP's 8th annual Black Tie and Blue and Jeans Gala.
JESSICA TILLMAN/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD Mei-Li Hernandez (event co-chair), Olivia Munn (Coast Young Professionals director) and Katie Widdows (event co-chair) at the CYP's 8th annual Black Tie and Blue and Jeans Gala.

BILOXI -- Coast Young Professionals recognized 10 mentors with the Forever Young award Wednesday night at the 8th annual Black Tie and Blue and Jeans gala at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

Nominees and CYP members dressed in style as they came out to celebrate the "unconventional" award show. About 325 people were in attendance.

The South Mississippi business group recognized 38 nominees, of whom 10 were chosen.

Nominees were judged on criteria such as their mentoring accomplishments.

"The scoring matrix," said event chair Katie Widdows, "is based on the leadership and mentorship the nominees have offered.

"The goal (of the awards) is to inspire our young professionals to step up into a mentor role as they are moving throughout their career, and understanding how important it is to reinvest into those young professionals that are coming behind us."

Video clips outlined why each winner's nominator deemed him or her to be deserving of the honor. The winners, unaware of these video tributes, were touched to see what an impact they have made on people's lives.

Emily Burke explained why she nominated her father, Dennis Burke, for a Forever Young award.

"He's been a huge mentor in my life," she said. "He has taught me so much about being a community leader, and has gotten me involved with so many different things. He's made a difference in a lot of lives. I am very proud."

Dennis Burke said he was at a loss for words that his daughter had nominated him.

Billy Knight Sr. summed up the philosophy of the award best: "Mentoring is about giving them advice, watching them grow and getting out of their way."

The Black Tie and Blue Jeans Gala was created in 2009 by Coast Young Professionals. It is the CYP's largest fundraiser for the organization.

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