Window shop in downtown Petaluma long enough and you might wonder which pill you took – the one that makes you larger or the one that makes you small (for the record, the ones that Mom gave you don’t do anything at all).

There’s a distinct Alice in Wonderland theme at play: Petaluma Textile & Design boasts a full-on tea party in its Western Avenue storefront and Sienna Antiques on Petaluma Boulevard has tableaux of life-sized “playing card people.” Turn the corner onto Kentucky Street and Copperfield’s Books pays homage to the March Hare’s obsession with time.

So what’s with the cabal of Lewis Carroll-inspired retail displays? It seems they’re a tip of the hat to the Mad Hatter Ball, an annual fundraiser for local nonprofit Mentor Me.

“It’s a surreal party,” longtime volunteer Nariman Manoochehri says of the event, which is now in its eleventh year. “I can tell you that.”

Petaluma Mad Hatter Ball

Now in it’s fifteenth year, Mentor Me provides at-risk youth one-on-one, longterm adult mentors in an effort to help them perform well in school. The organization operates in four Petaluma and Novato school districts and serves youth from age five to 17. Mentor Me currently has over 300 ongoing school-based mentors, who spend an hour a week with their mentees in Mentor Centers located in partner schools and at the MM Cavanagh Recreation Center in Petaluma.

“I’ve been mentoring for almost a dozen years and have been with the organization a long time – it’s an incredible organization. They do great work and I keep getting in deeper and deeper every year,” says Manoochehri.

So, further down the rabbit hole as it were?

“Exactly,” he laughs.

Though Manoochehri is as coy as the Cheshire Cat about what one might expect of the evening’s proceedings, he did allow that the silent auction of year’s past will be replaced with a live auction and raffle.

“I don’t want to give anything away to be honest with you,” he says. “We streamlined it and try to make it more fun and people can learn about the organization while they’re having fun.”

But with any Saturday night, the question is “What to wear?”

“It’s a ‘mad hatter ball’ so come costumed as you like to,” he encourages. “People come in full regalia and also just wear hats,” says Manoochehri. “We have a few stragglers who don’t dress up at all. All kinds of people come.”

People may come for the far-out fashion but they stay for the wine tasting and a local brewers beer garden.

“There’s a lot of alcohol involved and the price of admission gets you all you can eat and all you can drink,” Manoochehri says wryly. “It’s a wonderful time and people talk about it all year.”

This year’s auction items run the gamut from a “Tahoe-Donner vacation retreat” to a chicken coop (because no matter how far down the rabbit hole you go, you’re still in Petaluma). Disco cover act The Grooveline will perform an array of 70s dance tunes and prizes will be awarded for the “maddest hat”

And if you remember what the dormouse said, remove your hat, so you can “Feed your head.”

Mentor Me’s 2016 Mad Hatter Ball begins at 5 p.m., Saturday, April 2 at the Mentor Me Cavanagh Recreation Center, 426 8th St., Petaluma. For more information and tickets, visit or call (707) 778-4798.


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