Not your average tea party

There were straw hats with bows, hats blooming with flowers, and even a hat made of balloons. Fashion meets fundraising at the annual The Mad Hatter Tea Party. It's one of two annual fundraisers for Bethel Recovery Center, which provides a safe, structured place for woman recovering from alcohol or drug addiction, and their children. Located in Bridgeport, the center has space for 15 women and children to live in. They usually stay from six months to two years, getting counseling, courses in life and parenting skills, and referrals for housing and help from other agencies, and assistance in filling out paperwork. It provides services for another 15 women each year.

The eighth annual mad hatter tea party was held recently at the home of Caroline and Alastair Crawford, who moved to Fairfield from New York City two years ago after they fell in love with a federal-style antique house once owned by Richard Rogers, of the famous song-writing teams Rogers and Hart and Rogers and Hammerstein.

"I'm happy to open up my house to this cause," said Caroline Crawford, who met Janice Kelly last year and was inspired by her. Kelly is a licensed practical nurse, recovered drug addict and executive director at the Bethel Recovery Center.

Crawford, who grew up on Brooklawn Avenue in Bridgeport, was wearing a blue straw conical hat decorated with fabric hydrangeas, which she'd purchased at Peggy's Millinery and Boutique in Bridgeport. Alastair, jokingly described the hat as looking "like a lampshade," before amending his comment to say that it looked like something Audrey Hepburn would have worn. Caroline also wore some of the silver jewelry her husband designs for Crawford Contemporaries Inglefield Collection.

Alastair Crawford, who has been an exclusive dealer of Georg Jensen silver and jewelry, recently launched Crawford Contemporaries. He sells the original handcrafted silver and gold jewelry and tableware directly to clients. Crawford Contemporaries was one of several vendors at the event donating 20 percent of sales. The other vendors were Westport businesses Ostilly Collections, Neal's Yard, Catch All, and from Nantucket Peter Beaton of Nantucket, Mass., and Inglefield Collection by Crawford Contemporary of Fairfield.

A three-piece combo, Up-Town Jazz, performed jazz classics while waiters offered artistic platters of hors d'oeuvres by Country House Cuisine, which is owned by Victoria Truchan, a co-founder of the Mad Hatter Tea Party.

Debbie Ritter of Westport, a "Queen of Hearts" donor to the event, comes to the event every year with a group of friends. She was wearing a Peter Beaton straw hat with an aqua bow. The pink interior cast a fresh glow upon her face. Ritter, grew up wearing hats to events in her native Australia, especially the Melbourne Cup, known as being the longest horse race in the world.

At the Peter Beaton hat table, Darcy Creech, who comes down from Nantucket to this event every year, was "finishing" a hat for a customer, fitting the interior binding so that it would sit just right. She chose from the rolls of ribbons, and cut a segment to create a bow for the hat.

Hatless, Maggie Gardella watched. "I bought one here last year," she said, "It had lots of flowers. It didn't go with my outfit, so I'm going to get a new one." The hat she chose cost $236. "You see how it happens?" she laughed.

Sitting at a table in the shade were Ruby Demas and Rosa McFadden of Bridgeport and Rivers Teske of Westport. Teske is the president of the nonprofit Hidden Choices International. "This is our first year here," she said, "We're here to support Bethel Recovery and its work helping at risk women and children. We want them to succeed. I believe this organization is right on the front lines with them."

The most unusual hat of the day floated above the head of Kelley Schutte of Westport. Her "hat" was a series of colorful helium balloons decorated with illustrations of tea pots, clocks and other references to Alice in Wonderland.

"I'm a designer and I love hats," she said, "but I thought I'd do something fun. I thought: party, fun ... balloons."

A couple days after the event, Kelly said the Mad Hatter Tea Party had been a great success. "Caroline and Alastair were fantastic hosts. The whole thing was wonderful. We got a lot of new friends, and someone has already volunteered to host the event next year." The event raised about $24,000 for the Bethel Recovery Center.

Kelly described running the center as being a 24-hour business. The day after the tea party was supposed to be her day off, but one of the residents had a bad toothache. She also had no health insurance, or cash to pay for having the infected tooth removed. Kelly found a solution, driving the woman to St. Vincent's emergency room, and then helping her get discounted antibiotics from a program from Stop and Shop.

Then she got a call from York prison, asking if she would provide transitional supervision for a pregnant prisoner. Without Kelly's help, the baby would be born in prison, taken from its mother and put in foster care.

"You know why it's so important to me?" Kelly said, her voice filling with emotion, "Because I know the damage it does." Kelly's first son spent his first four-and-a-half months in foster care after Kelly, an unwed mother, refused to sign the adoption papers her father wanted her to sign. Kelly worked hard to get herself on her feet so that she could get her son out of foster care.

"So, I'll help Jocelyn and her baby," Kelly said, "It's a give-back to the world, and to myself."

For more information about the Bethel Recovery Center, go to