Memorial Test Coordinator Roger Woest has been named to the Houston Chronicle's Houston Heroes for his fundraising efforts. Woest raises money for various causes with his series of Caring Cabaret musical events. Photo credit: Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronicle
Nell Huffman, Pasadena High School head secretary with Woest at the 2015 service awards where they were honored for 45 years of service.
via the Houston Chronicle/ Everett Evans
Fundraising is a cabaret, old chum, come to the Caring Cabaret!
With a little paraphrasing, the classic show tune makes a perfect theme song for pianist and educator Roger Woest.
In 2004, Woest found a way to combine two of his favorite activities, making music and helping people, with his Caring Cabaret events. About four times each year, Woest and his talented friends get together for an evening of music, with the proceeds going to a local charity. Sometimes it's three or four performers, sometimes, it's as many as a dozen. Since 2004, he has presented 28 such events, raising more than $142,000 for Pet Patrol, Project Joy and Hope, Open Gate Ministries, AIDS Walk Houston and other charities.
"It fills my heart to do this," Woest says. "These people are such wonderful performing talents. I'm in awe of that - and their willingness to give their time and energy to these causes. We have fun doing the shows and, at the same time, we know every cent we raise is going to the recipient. So it's really satisfying."
Woest underwrites any expenses himself to ensure all money raised goes to the beneficiary.
Born in Baton Rouge, La., Woest grew up in Pasadena. He has loved playing piano ever since his first lessons at age 8.
"No one ever had to make me practice," Woest says. "I always loved music. I knew a girl who played piano, and I admired her very much for that ability."
For his career, however, Woest chose education. He has worked in the Pasadena Independent School District for 46 years, first as a teacher, then administrator. Currently, he is testing coordinator at Pasadena Memorial High School.
In his 40s, Woest began playing and singing at piano bars, restaurants and for parties. In the early 2000s, feeling he wanted to "give back" to the city, he mentioned it to his minister at Bering Memorial Church.
"I followed her advice and joined the board of the Bering Omega Community Services," Woest says. "I quickly realized that one of a board member's chief purposes is to raise money. Some of the board members were heavy hitters with law firms and the like and could persuade them to donate $10,000. Being in education, I didn't have access to such resources. But from my years playing around town, I had a lot of talented friends."
So Woest put together the first Caring Cabaret program, to benefit Bering Omega, which provides health care and social services to people with HIV and AIDS. It remained the beneficiary for the first four years.
"When I cycled off the board," Woest says, "I started doing the events for different charities. Sometimes, serendipity just leads me to these groups I didn't know existed. For instance, a while back when I was playing at a party, I met a woman who turned out to be the leader of Project Joy and Hope, a charity that helps families with critically ill children."
"Most often, we help smaller charities," Woest says, "so that the amount we're able to raise this way can have an impact - though we have done shows for some larger organizations, including the Wounded Warrior Project."
Several popular Houston entertainers have performed in Woest's series from the start and have remained mainstays, including Patti Barnes, Deborah Boily, Laura Finger and Terry Jones. They were among the 12 who performed at the Feb. 28 Caring Cabaret held at Ovations, with proceeds going to AIDS Walk Houston and Omega House.
"Roger has had such an impact on so many lives in our community that it would be difficult to convey the full impact of his fundraising," says Tricia Lynn. She worked with Woest on his first Caring Cabaret and has managed many of the events. "He is a very caring and generous person with a passion for helping those who are less fortunate than many of us."
"I've always had a passion for helping people however I could," Woest says. "Anyone who goes into the education field has service in their blood - we would not have the teaching profession were it not for that. And my school is on the same wavelength as I am in that regard, always making extra efforts to give back to the community."
Admission for Caring Cabaret events is simple, as Woest explains: "Give a donation of at least $25, and you can come to the party - $50 guarantees 'up front' seating."
Of course, you can always give more.