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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Love and Marriage: Charity and Holy Matrimony

This post, or "offering," comes from the lovely Jessica Love.   Ms. Love is engaged and living in Sacramento, CA with her fabulous fiancé, Jason.  In addition to being a public relations rock star, Ms. Love is a talented writer and I'm hoping to convince her to make guest posting a regular gig.  You can read more from Jessica at Girls on the Grid, where in her latest post, she shares a yummy recipe for two.  Here's her take on how she's giving back in an often overlooked, but traditional way:

  For some couples, weddings translate to the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. My fiancé and I are one of those couples. When I imagined my wedding as a little girl, I always imagined it in a church.

My fiancé (Jason) and I were both raised Catholic, and want to raise our children Catholic as well. Throughout our planning process, our one constant has been our desire to have a traditional Catholic wedding.

This is not as simple as I thought it would be. At times the church aspect is frustrating: There is limited availability, ceremony times are set in stone, and we worry that our non-Catholic guests might be bored. It also requires extra driving between the ceremony and the reception, and it is difficult to line up the ceremony and reception times so that there’s not a gap between the two.  

Still, we wanted to stay true to our vision, and our faith. So we’ve booked our wedding at St. Francis Catholic church in midtown Sacramento. It’s a beautiful, old mission-style church. With its grand altar, religious imagery and striking stained glass, the church offers a setting that – I believe – will make our wedding ceremony especially sacred. 

Interior of St. Francis Church, Sacramento, CA

There is great beauty in the traditional religious ceremony. But beyond that, all fees associated with use of the church are essentially donations to the parish. At St. Francis, I know our donation goes to one of the 50-plus ministries that the church provides. Whether to support the affiliated parish elementary school, assist in the church’s breakfast ministry (each morning, parish volunteers serve breakfast to the homeless), or help with repairs for the church building, my family considers it money well spent.

Sure, we could have held our ceremony at the vineyard where our reception will be. It would have been easier and more convenient for guests, and would have allowed us the evening ceremony that we wanted. But when I walk down the aisle at 2:00 p.m. on June 25, 2011, I know that I’ll be fulfilling what is, for Jason and me, a sacrament. And I’ll know that our contribution will enable the church to continue offering that same sacrament for other couples for years to come. To me, that’s worth everything.
The happy couple, Jason and Jessica.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Helping just by saying "I do"

New Orleans is home to many beautiful spaces and during my research, I turned up a number of stunning French Quarter courtyards,  a museum rooftop, as well as several parks, but in the end, City Park and Audubon Park topped my list. 

Audubon Park offers numerous shelters, including, but not limited to the Newman Bandstand, the Tree of Life and several sites within the Audubon Zoo itself.  Booking your ceremony with Audubon is a great way to provide much needed funds for both conservation and facility maintenance.  

Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano
City Park also has several beautiful spots to say “I do,” including groves of beautiful live oaks, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) sculpture garden and The Peristyle, a neo-classical Greek structure on the edge of a small lake. 

After visiting both sites, we fell in love with the Newman Bandstand and the Peristyle.  Both sites were amazing and offered picturesque views. I was happy that either decision would support the local parks.
My cousin, who is getting married in Spring 2012, decided to have her reception at the beautiful Audubon Park Golf Clubhouse, so we opted for the Peristyle in City Park.  

Our modest ceremony fee for renting the Peristyle will go to the restoration of City Park, which was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Katrina.  Many of the park's famed botanical gardens were destroyed during the storm, as were its live oaks, so we're thrilled that our ceremony will aid in restoring the park.

The Peristyle in New Orleans City Park

 While my knowledge of ceremony sites is primarily limited to the New Orleans area, most cities and even smaller towns have public parks and zoos. These places could be ideal options for anyone looking for a non-traditional ceremony site.  Some parks and museums rely on facilities rentals to sustain themselves.  Check out you local parks, zoos and museums to find out how your rental dollars can help improve your local public space. 

Of course, many folks opt to have their ceremony in a church.  This is a great option too, as it is a way to give back to their religious community and the faith they were raised in.  Since I know less about the church-ceremony process, I’d love to hear from brides whose ceremony took place or will take place in a religious institution to find out how having a"traditional" ceremony can positively benefit one's church and community. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Location. Location. Location.

After a visit to the Covering Katrina exhibit at the Newseum in DC, I was reminded of one of the major reasons we chose to have our wedding in New Orleans. Seeing pictures of the thousands stranded at the Convention Center only blocks from where we will have our wedding reception, reinforced the importance of giving back to the city. What better way to help New Orleans than to hold the biggest party we can there? Besides, is there a better place to have a party?

Katrina left a profound impact on New Orleans, which was still evident when my fiancé and I visited there this past summer, during the peak of the BP oil spill crisis. The city is definitely healing (thanks to amazing volunteers and the New Orleans Saints), but there is still a great deal of need. While the French Quarter and other more touristy areas have recovered, huge portions of the city are still trying to make a comeback.

A wedding in Jackson Square New Orleans, photo by Nicole Nichols
It helps to remember that every dollar that spent in New Orleans helps the recovery effort. Weddings, and the hospitality industry in general, really fuel the city's economy. In addition to the thousands of locals who tie the knot in the city each year, out-of-town couples also select NOLA as a popular destination wedding and honeymoon locale, so booking your wedding in New Orleans can be competitive. Yet there are a ton of options if you start your search early. New Orleans Wedding Magazine online and Weddings in New are great resources for finding vendors and planning your New Orleans wedding.

As native Louisianians, New Orleans was a logical choice for us for our wedding. It allowed us to help the local economy and also be near family and friends. A New Orleans wedding might not be an option for everyone, but looking for a special place that could use your dollars is a great way to start.

As a special spotlight, here are just a few charities in NOLA that are making a difference by rebuilding in New Orleans post-Katrina:

Make it Right
You might recognize Mr. Brad Pitt, the founder of Make it Right, which works in the 9th ward (my dad’s neighborhood growing up) in the area where the levee breached to build sustainable homes for low-income families.

Friends of New Orleans
This group aims to “inform people of those key issues that are shaping the national debate and decision making of the rebuilding effort, link individuals who want to help with the communities in the devastated areas and motivate people to take part in the rebuilding effort.”

Rebuilding Together New Orleans
Rebuilding Together New Orleans is a program of the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans that focuses on helping residents in Orleans Parish by using a combination of volunteer and professional labor.

Find out more about how you can be a voluntourist in New Orleans. During the course of the year, I'm hoping to spotlight even more great organizations in NOLA and elsewhere. Please let me know about ones near you!

Safe travels and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


While the word “engaged” has many meanings, when I tell people that “I’m engaged” they envision a frantic/blissful period, filled with earth-shattering decisions involving hydrangeas and lace.  Yet, according to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the word engaged can mean any of the following:

1 involved in activity : occupied, busy
2 pledged to be married : betrothed
3 greatly interested : committed
4 involved especially in a hostile encounter (yikes!)

Normally, I would NEVER, ever start things off quoting the dictionary. Yet in this case it seemed all too appropriate. For anyone who has been engaged to be married (#2), you can also vouch for #1- being beyond busy and sadly, #4 (feuding families, money woes and all the other things that emerge when planning a wedding).

I know, I know- I skipped #3.  That’s because, in my opinion it is the most important and the most relevant to this blog.  Sure, being engaged implies that you are deeply interested and committed to one another, but the definition of the word also lends itself to meaning committed to a cause.

I’m going to structure this blog so that it follows the natural steps one takes when planning a wedding- choosing a ceremony and reception site, finding a photographer, band, wedding dress, etc., but I wanted to give initial recognition to a few of the non-profits/individuals that inspired me to get engaged with a cause (or in this case many causes).

My main sources of inspiration came from two people, my mom, who sent me a link to an article about the Bridal Garden, a non-profit bridal salon in NYC that benefits children's charities, and Mr. Walter Grio, the photographer and innovator behind Shoot for Change.  Rather than receive payment for his photography services, Mr. Grio asks that his clients simply donate what they would have spent on photography to the charity of their choice! Wow, right?! Anyway, more on both of these later, as I think they each deserve more attention. 

Discovering these great organizations is what inspired my mission to find other ways that I could give back. I'd love to get comments from others on charities, foundations and individuals that inspire them in some way.  While Bridal Garden is dedicated to wedding related philanthropy, there are organizations, like Shoot for Change, that are committed to helping in a multitude of ways (more on that later).  So, even if your inspiration isn't strictly wedding related- I'd love to hear from you.

Next stop: Choosing a location that gives back....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

We're engaged!

 I got engaged less than a month ago.  Since then, my fiancé and I have been lucky enough to receive well wishes and blessings from friends and family, while also being simultaneously bombarded with emails about how to spend money for “Our Special Day.” More often than not, the fliers for limousines and venues are targeting just me: the future bride, because after all I am supposed to be the main stakeholder in this, the one who has practice being a bride her whole life- you know the pillowcase as a veil, a bouquet of flowers picked from the yard (you get the picture.)

I did play wedding when I was little, but I was never the bride or the groom- I was the wedding planner.  Every week for what was probably a whole summer I oversaw a different themed wedding for my four-year old sister and three-year old neighbor.  There was one particularly elaborate Little Mermaid themed reception with Pepperidge farm goldfish snacks and “Kiss the Girl” playing on loop in the cassette player.

So, it’s no surprise that I now work in development for a non-profit- planning events for others, something I enjoy very much.  Now that it’s time to plan my own wedding, however I’ve become what my mom and bridesmaids are calling- Guiltzilla.

Both my  fiancé and I are more behind the scenes types and we feel guilty that so much money and time will go into one day.  That's not to say that we aren't really excited about our wedding day, or that one should feel guilty about having the wedding of their dreams, just that we do.  

I spend my work day trying to scrape money together for a not-for-profit, so I am reminded  frequently how hard fundraising dollars can be to come by. That's why I was surprised, when during my early wedding research phase (the past month or so), I have stumbled across numerous ( fantastic) sites on how to "green your wedding," but very little information on how to give  back via your wedding. The I Do Foundation is a great place to start, but otherwise, there is not really a central place to get information on this subject. 

There are tons of not-for-profits, foundations, businesses and good Samaritans who have found creative ways to "engage" in "wedding philanthropy" -  you just have to look and look hard for them.  I'm hoping this blog will spotlight these innovators and also make the search easier for anyone who wants to either give back through their wedding or just find ideas and inspiration.