School’s Out Benefit: Ben Dixon Co-Chairs Event For LGBTQ+ Youth

The Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) is gearing up for its annual School’s Out Benefit on July 20 in Water Mill — a cornerstone event to support LGBTQ+ youth in need.

Established decades ago, HMI has been steadfast in its mission to provide a safe and nurturing environment for young people of all sexual orientations and identities. With the onset of summer break, the Institute’s School’s Out Benefit takes center stage, rallying community support to ensure that LGBTQ+ youth have access to vital resources during the summer months. 

Last year’s remarkable success, raising over $650,000, speaks volumes about the dedication and generosity of supporters. This year’s event promises to be equally impactful, with co-chairs Benjamin Dixon, Tonia Steck, and Larry Milstein at the helm. Set against the scenic backdrop of Water Mill, the evening promises a delightful array of activities, including a VIP “Taste of the Hamptons” dinner featuring culinary delights from renowned establishments. With sponsors like Nordstrom, Barry’s Bootcamp, and United Airlines onboard, the stage is set for another unforgettable evening supporting HMI’s noble cause. 

We met with co-chair and Douglas Elliman broker Ben Dixon to learn more about the School’s Out Benefit.

Photo: Andrew Werner

What inspired you to become involved with the Hetrick-Martin Institute and the School’s Out Benefit?

I am blessed to have a very supportive family, and while coming out was still scary as a teenager, I knew my parents would still love and care for me. HMI is that supportive family for our youth. And it is that support that allows our youth to not only survive but thrive. What is more inspiring than helping kids reach their full potential?! I attended the organization’s annual benefit in the Hamptons for many years and always had a lot of fun, but never thought of chairing the event until my friend Bobby Graham invited me to participate in 2017. Executing a 500+ attendee event is no small feat, but it is all worth it when we get to introduce new donors to HMI’s incredible work and raise much-needed funds for the community.

Don Lemon and Dennis Basso. Photo: Andrew Werner

Can you tell us about the impact that the School’s Out Benefit has on LGBTQ+ youth served by the Hetrick-Martin Institute?

We raised over $650,000 in 2023. That is over 15 percent of HMI’s annual budget. It’s crucial funding that allows us to provide not only basic services like hot meals, showers, and clean clothes but also to hire mental health professionals, and provide scholarships to our youth.

Last year’s event raised an impressive amount of money. What do you attribute to the success of the fundraiser?

Our gracious hosts, Nathan Orsman and Jose Castro. They really leaned into the event and called on their network of friends. There were many new faces in the crowd last year, and many of those were very generous. Hearing our young peoples’ stories directly from our staff and how HMI transforms the trajectory of these lives is truly moving. Last year, Kelly Ripa and her husband, Mark Consuelos, attended as guests of one of our committee members, and they were so moved by the stories about our young people and what the organization does to support them that they devoted a segment on the show about it the next day which was really very special and helped us so much.

Synchronized swimmers with Michael Consuela and Kelly Ripa. Photo: Andrew Werner

As one of the co-chairs for this year’s event, what are your goals or expectations?

Every year, we host the event at a new residence with the kind participation of the homeowner, who graciously welcomes 500+ people to attend an amazing evening at their home! The ticketed event starts with cocktails ($500) and then transitions into a dinner ($1,500). There is also a silent and live auction with everything from trips around the world to overnight stays at some amazing properties. This year, we are hosting the event at the Brown’s home in Water Mill, and I know we are going to have a fabulous time. We will be enjoying a synchronized swimming performance for the second year in a row — that was a big hit last year. Our dinner is called “The Best of the Hamptons” and we have amazing dishes thanks to the support of Duryea’s, Almond, Carissa’s, Chloe’s, and STK (Steakhouse). Of course, we would like to surpass last year’s fundraising record and see a lot of smiles on our guests’ faces at the end of the evening.

Photo: Andrew Werner

Could you share some highlights or special features of this year’s School’s Out benefit?

In addition to the synchronized swimmers during the cocktail portion of the evening, we will have a special performance and dancing during the dinner. The live auction items are also coming together very nicely thanks to United Airlines and our newest board member — The Points Guy, Brian Kelly. We also have great silent auction items, and DJ Lina will be spinning all evening.

What role do sponsors like Nordstrom, Barry’s Bootcamp, and United Airlines play in making the event possible?

These sponsors are crucial in making School’s Out possible. In addition to supporting HMI throughout the year with cash donations, they fill our incredible gift bags and are the reason our live auction raised over $150,000 last year.

Carrie Dragshaw and Candace Bushnell. Photo: Andrew Werner

In what ways can individuals or organizations get involved or support the School’s Out Benefit if they are unable to attend the event?

You can always make a donation at

What message would you like to convey to those considering attending or supporting the School’s Out Benefit?

Join us for a magical evening! This is truly a special event. If you will be joining us for the first time, I am sure School’s Out will become an event you look forward to every year. And not only will you have fun, you’ll also get to hear from our incredible staff about the amazing work they do and how you can get involved.

Looking ahead, do you have any long-term goals or visions for the future of the School’s Out Benefit and its impact on the LGBTQ+ community?

Over the past seven years, we have tripled the amount that School’s Out raises for HMI and our community. I would love to hit a million dollars soon. And I know, with the help of my amazing co-chairs — Larry Milstein and Tonia Steck — and everyone on our host committees, like Andy Cohen, Darren Starr, Candace Bushnell, and Kelly Bensimon, we will hit that goal.

To learn more, visit

Ty Wenzel

Co-Publisher & Contributor

Ty Wenzel, a recent breast cancer survivor, started her career as a fashion coordinator for Bloomingdale’s followed by fashion editor for Cosmopolitan Magazine. She was also a writer for countless publications, including having published a memoir (St. Martin's Press) and written features for The New York Times. She is an award-winning writer and designer who covers lifestyle, real estate, architecture and interiors for James Lane Post. She previously worked as a writer and marketing director for The Independent. She has won multiple PCLI and NYPA awards for journalism, social media and design, including best website design and best magazine for James Lane Post, which she co-founded in 2020. Wenzel is also a co-founder of the meditation app for kids, DreamyKid, and the Hamptons social media agency, TWM Hamptons Social Media.

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