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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Changing the World: One Click at A Time

Editor's note: I have to preface this blog by saying that Walter Grio and Shoot for Change were some of my primary inspirations for starting this blog.  I hope his work inspires all of you as well!

Walter Grio does something extraordinary- he takes pictures and does not collect a dime for himself. Instead, he asks that his clients donate 100% of what they would be paying him for his services to charity.  He calls this philanthropic photography project Shoot for Change (SFC). Last year alone, SFC raised over $19,000!

My fiance and I grabbed lunch with Walter a couple of weeks ago to get a better idea about how SFC works.  It turns out that Walter has a normal Clark Kent job as a project manager for a software company here in DC.  His work as a superhero philanthropist is done on the side- on weekends and evenings.  

The idea for SFC emerged after a fashion and makeup photoshoot Walter happened into in Stockholm, Sweden.  He was "discovered" with his camera in a bar and asked to do the shoot.  After publishing his shots from the shoot to the web, people began asking Walter how much he was selling his photos for.  Many people in his situation would be thrilled to make a few extra dollars, but Walter saw an opportunity- an opportunity to do good.  He decided that all the money he made from photoshoots would go to nonprofit organizations.  

A picture of Walter Grio c/o SFC
 So, what makes SFC click? Well, you donate all the money you would pay for photography services directly to the nonprofit organization of your choice for an amount that you negotiate with Walter before the shoot.  You then get the tax benefit of making a donation to a nonprofit organization.  All you need to do is show a receipt confirming your donation.  The prices start at $500 for one-hour sessions, such as family and personal portraits, as well as fashion portfolio shots for stylists, models, designers, hair and makeup artists.   If you have more to give, starting at $3,500 you can get six hours of coverage for your wedding or a corporate event. 

Walter is the first to admit that weddings are not his field of expertise (he limits the number of weddings he does each year), but he does take beautiful wedding pictures, which you can see examples of here

One of his main passions is for fashion shoots, which is represented by his work with Fashion Fights Poverty, a non-profit ethical and eco fashion organization in Washington, DC and his coverage of events like Fashion for Paws, which benefits the Washington Humane Society.  
Photo by Walter Grio. Featured in the Fashion Fights Poverty Dress Responsibly Lookbook, Issue 6, Raw. 
SFC also raises money for numerous non-fashion related causes and events, ranging from breast cancer to helping battered women. To date, SFC has raised almost $30,000 for non-profit organizations! Of course the success of this unusual philanthropic endeavor has created quite a stir in the DC community. Recently, SFC even inspired local DC artist Don Patron to feature a portrait of Walter alongside with other notable DC philanthropists in his Stellar Constellations Collection, at L2 Lounge (Cady's Alley) in Georgetown.   

Walter is using all the attention he is gaining from SFC to inspire other photographers, models, designers, stylists, and members of the creative community to shoot for change and as he puts it “inspire the world one click at a time.”  My fiance and I were definitely inspired and  we are thrilled to have SFC do our engagement pictures next weekend. Because of SFC's remarkable mission we will get beautiful engagement pictures and make a contribution to a worthwhile cause.  Stay tuned in the coming months for pictures from our Shoot for Change shoot. 
In the meantime, check out some of these great events that SFC will be part of:

Women Empowered Against Violence - BoConcept
March 12th, 6pm to 8pm

Conversations at The Kreeger Museum
March 15th, 6pm to 8pm

Monday, January 24, 2011

Making Wedding Wishes a Reality

I hired a wedding planner, which was a really hard decision for me because 1) I have a problem asking for help when I need it, and 2) I plan events for work all the time. Yet it is this second reason that made me realize that I really needed help.  A crucial part of event planning is having relationships with vendors – something that is hard to do when you are over a thousand miles away from where your wedding will be held! I knew that in order to find vendors who would be interested in a wedding for a cause, I would need someone who knew a lot of vendors.

When going into meetings with event planners, it was very important to me that the planner be inspired and interested in my mission- to give back to others through my wedding. As soon as my fianc√© and I met with Emily Sullivan, the owner of Get Polished Events, and several other members of the staff, we were  struck by how interested they were in making weddings personal and not cookie-cutter.  They were really interested in the uniqueness of our cause and promised to help us get started searching for vendors that would support our goals.  Emily almost immediately started naming vendors who she thought would want to get involved with our cause.  Her enthusiasm, as well as the rest of the staffs’ sold us. 
A wedding done by Get Polished Events at The Foundry
So we hired Get Polished Event planners. As a New Orleans based business that specializes in both planning and beauty services- Get Polished has a lot of local connections.  One of the connections I was most excited about was Emily’s connection with Wish Upon A Wedding.  She serves on the board for the newly launched New Orleans chapter.

Officially launched in January of 2010, Wish Upon a Wedding is a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization that provides weddings and vow renewals to couples that are facing terminal illness or other serious life-altering circumstances. The organization is non-discriminating, as it helps couples have the wedding of their dreams regardless of their sexual orientation. Often, couples that are facing difficult situations, like terminal disease, do not have the time, energy or finances needed to plan their weddings.  Wish Upon a Wedding takes care of all the wedding details, offering couples a chance to enjoy their special day while being surrounded by the love of their closest family and friends.

The website features real couples who have benefited from Wish Upon A Wedding.  It is obvious how important a service this not-for-profit is providing when you see the couples on their Wedding Day. While their personal stories are gut-wrenching, reading them really instills a sense of hope and strength for any couple, especially those who may be facing or have faced similar situations.

Wish Upon a Wedding currently has over a dozen chapters across the United States. I was excited to find out that both NOLA and DC had chapters launch in 2011. You can support Wish Upon a Wedding – either  through, cash, airline miles, volunteer hours, buy hosting an event or making a donation in lieu of favors for your wedding.

Even though Emily and I have just begun working together, she has already introduced me to some amazing people, including Doug Keese of Artisan Style. Like Emily, Doug works with Wish Upon A Wedding, as well as the Boys and Girls Club.  While Doug won't be shooting our wedding day- I was excited to get to know him and learn about all the great work he is doing in New Orleans.  The photographer who will be capturing our wedding day- Jessica of Fine Arts Exposure, has used her magazine, New Orleans Weddings Magazine, to do a great deal of volunteer work raising awareness for causes such as the American Heart Association's Go Red for women campaign and the LSPCA.  I'm looking forward to partnering with her to support these and other causes as the wedding planning proceeds.

Writing this blog has been exciting for many reasons, but it has been most rewarding because it has provided me with an outlet to showcase quite a few great people who are making a difference. I never expected to find so many people who make giving back a core guiding principle in their lives.  Even for-profit businesses, such as The Foundry and Get Polished, find ways to give back through humanitarian endeavors and charitable contributions in their respective fields.   Whether philanthropy is their full-time job or just what they do on the side- discovering all the philanthropic efforts that people are taking part in as been inspiring.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Celebrating Generously

Celebrating generously is what this blog is all about, but this motto belongs to the I Do Foundation, which serves as the intersection between the wedding industry and philanthropic causes.  The I Do Foundation offers an amazing array of services and information and is the go-to place for any socially conscious bride.

So, what can you hope to find when visiting the website?  There are links to partners of the I Do Foundation, such as Carlson Craft (an invitation company) that donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.  Other tabs, such as “Honeymoons” and “Favors” include links to organizations that can help you turn your dollar into a donation. Of all the functions featured on the website, the I Do Foundation’s registry information is perhaps the most valuable. 

The I Do Foundation provides information on how to set-up a charity registry through its website so that guests can give directly to the charitable cause of your choice.  While you have to choose a charity from the foundation’s pre-approved list, the foundation provides numerous options that are divided into six categories: Children, Youth, and Families, Community Development, Education, Environment, Health and Social Justice. 

Essentially, your guests can make secure online donations in support of the organization of your choice as their wedding gift to you.  As the website explains, just like a gift registry, the I Do Foundation's Charity Registry shows your guests your giving preferences in order to better guide their giving. When you create a Charity Registry, you may suggest a specific number of donation gifts, or you may allow your guests to make donations freely. You can also specify a dollar amount for each donation, or let guests choose the amount of their gifts. As an added benefit, the I Do Foundation maintains a list of all of the donations made via your registry so that you can thank the guests who supported your charity or charities.

While it is feasible for some couples, particularly those getting married later in life to only establish a charity registry, others like my fianc√© and myself are still in need of some basic living essentials. So, while we still plan on making a charity registry an option to our guests, we need some pots and pans too.  Luckily, the I Do Foundation is prepared for this and they offer a gift registry that allows you to furnish your home and help others too.

To create a charitable Gift Registry with the I DO Foundation, you must first register your wedding with them. Once you are registered, you can register with any of their partner stores, such as Target, REI and Mikasa to name a few. Some, like, give as much as 10% back to the charity of your choice, whereas many like Pottery Barn and Amazon donate around 3%.

Another great site that allows you to purchase gifts and help a good cause is Like the I Do Foundation, a percent of GoodShop's sales go to giving back to charities. GoodShop allows you to search for your favorite charities and add them to the website if they are not already listed.   You can also see what percent of your purchase will go to that charity. Whether getting gifts for your attendants or searching for outfits for your engagement party, GoodShop will link you to stores like Barnes & Noble, J Crew, JC Penney and Banana Republic and provide you with coupons.  When you shop at any of the stores featured on GoodShop or use the coupons a percent of your purchase goes to whatever charity you pick. You can also search by categories, such as "Back to School" and "Garden" to quickly find the perfect gift or item.

Additionally, GoodShop is affiliated with, a search engine with a unique social mission.  With every web search, GoodSearch generously gives back to charity by giving fifty percent of the revenue from sponsored search results to the featured nonprofits.  GoodSearch is a great way to do your many, many wedding related Google searches and even if you aren't planning a wedding, GoodSearch and GoodShop provide great resources for everyday gift giving. After all, what's easier than helping others just by clicking a mouse?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Fresh Look at Food: Socially Concious Catering

I first encountered Fresh Start Catering (FSC) when I was a graduate student at American University. I was in a strategic communication class that required me to work with a community organization to help them develop a communication plan.  Our professor paired us with organizations that matched our interests and skills. So it was no surprise to me when I was assigned to FSC, a health focused, socially conscious DC based catering company.  As an avid health enthusiast who has worked in the not-for-profit and the food service industries, it was a natural fit.  

I was thrilled to learn that FSC served as a revenue stream for the DC Central Kitchen.  The DC Central Kitchen turns leftover, but still usable food into millions of meals for thousands of at-risk individuals. It recycles over 3,000 pounds of food each day, converting it into 4,500 meals that are distributed to 100 shelters, transitional homes, and rehabilitation clinics throughout the DC area. 

Chefs preparing food at the DC Central Kitchen
 These partner agencies also serve to refer clients to DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program , which helps once homeless adults become trained in the culinary arts. At the end of this job training program many of the graduates are hired by FSC.  

All the food served by FSC is fresh - not recycled.  FSC's Head Chef Alison Sosna partners with local farmers to procure fresh produce in order to provide high-quality, local, seasonable and sustainable foods. The FSC website explains that “By offering gourmet “conscious cuisine” prepared by graduates of the DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program, Fresh Start offers a powerful opportunity to use your purchasing power as philanthropy.”

Fresh Start Catering specializes in contract food services, business breakfasts, luncheons and drop-off meals, but they can do larger events (like more casual weddings) as well.  Fresh Start’s motto of "eat local and do good" is the perfect fit for a socially conscious bride. 

Of course many venues require that you use their in-house caterer, but as we all know there are tons of events-  parties, showers, bridesmaid luncheons and the rehearsal dinner- leading up to the big day that all require food to be served. Using a company like FSC for any of these events could be a great way to give back.  Check out Fresh Start Catering's seasonal menus or follow FSC on twitter @FreshStartDCCK to learn more.

Even though I won't be getting married in the DC area, I thought this would be a great way to let folks who are planning their weddings in DC know about this great cause. Having personally worked with FSC and sampled their delicious food, I know they are a great option for corporate lunches and smaller events too. I'd love to hear from readers about other food service companies that are giving back- please keep the emails and comments coming!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Honeymooning for a cause?

Looking outside the window I see large, fluffy snowflakes falling.  It is nothing like the snowpocalypse DC saw last year, but it is a far cry from the 70 degree temperatures I enjoyed while visiting New Orleans over Christmas.  With more snow in the forecast, I can’t help but let my mind wander to warmer places and things- like where we will have our honeymoon.
People initially gave us some room to settle into our engagement, but that period has seemingly ended. We are now being asked about everything from where we are registering to what color linens we will be using at the reception, but the most popular questions thus far has been- where will you go on your honeymoon? This question is usually followed with information on where they went and an extensive critique on the resort they stayed at, which is in most cases welcome information.

Gone are the days for the most part of the modest Niagara Falls retreat. Now as many couples are getting married later, they now have the means to go to remote, exotic locales- even Hawaii has been replaced in some cases by Bora Bora or Fiji.  

While some people's vacations have gotten more and more extravagant, others have opted to get back to the basics and make a difference through voluntourism.  The basic premise is that while you are enjoying a trip to a foreign locale, you can also give back. In fact, offers some great examples of trips that you can take in order to help others.   
"Voluntours" clearing trails in Maui.
There are dozens of websites dedicated to voluntourism and even more articles on the subject.  This is due, at least in part, to the broad range of trips available. In's article "5 Great Voluntourism Trips in 2010," the trips featured range from an environmentally focused escape in Iceland to trip involving work in a Serbian orphanage.  Look for even more trips on the Travelanthropist website.

While voluntourism has gotten more and more popular as a vacation alternative, recently it has also become a trend for honeymooning couples too.  A popular option for some couples is splitting their honeymoon into a half service and half relaxation hybrid.  Essentially, couples can opt to help build a well in a rural village in Thailand one week and then sit and sip Mai Tais by the infinity pool in Bali the next.  

Couples interested in giving back should find out if the locale they are visiting is near an area in need or one with a voluntourism community project. I've seen firsthand what a difference just a day of voluntourism can do for a place.  The groups that came to New Orleans aided the city's recovery not only with their tourism dollars, but also with their hard work. In my November 24, 2010 blog "Location Location Location," I mentioned Friends of New Orleans, a group that brings volunteers to new Orleans to aid in the city's recovery.

Here are just a few more web resources for planning your voluntour adventure or honeymoon from Project's superb article on humanitarian honeymoon's:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Shaping Up and Helping Out

New Year’s Day is a day of new beginnings. How many of us resolve to shed pounds, eat healthier, drink less, exercise more?  Just as New Year’s resolutions bring on a certain state of body conciousness and refocused health goals - so do weddings.

We’ve all heard that your wedding day is the best you will look in your whole life.  It is the day that all eyes are on you and your figure. While some brides might try and hide in a poufy ball gown or pull the corset strings as tight as possible, without confidence, they are still plagued with worries about flabby arms and other "imperfections." After all, you are supposed to look perfect, right?  

I’m a big believer in healthy lifestyles and good eating habits, but I also think life is about balance and enjoying simple pleasures.  Perfection is pretty much unattainable.  Being happy with yourself is much more important. So, that being said it is 100% okay to want to look your best on your big day, but it is even more important to approach your new plan with the same focus and strategy that you used when picking your husband-to-be!

Creating a list of “no’s” might work for a DJ's play list, but you need to allow yourself some wiggle room too.  Think of all the pre-wedding parties and showers.  Do you really want to be the bride that refuses even the tiniest bite of your Aunt Linda's strawberry shortcake? 

Luckily, the best steps toward reaching your health goals don't have to be painful and they also happen to be cost effective and can help others.  Filling your plate with local or organic produce reduces your waist line and your carbon footprint. You can also save the dollars you would spend on a pricey gym membership or expensive workout equipment by hitting the pavement for a good cause. There are literally thousands of races for charities- 5k, 10k, 10-miler, half marathon, marathon- the options are pretty much limitless. 

Even better, if you have members of your wedding party nearby- you can create a team and participate together. Races like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure encourage participants to form teams.  To find a race in your area visit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website.
A great picture from Walter Grio's Shoot for Change coverage of the Washington, DC Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure
Not a runner? Then walk!  Many races, like this week's featured Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure are walker friendly.  Others, like the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer are especially designed for those who would rather go slow and steady. For more walks that benefit charity, check out the Charity Walks blog for a list of walking events that help others. 

The website also provides links to all kinds of races that benefit causes, including adventure races, triathalons, bike races, climbing and more. Here are a just a few of the unique events recognized as worthy of your time and contributions.

  • Walk to Cure Diabetes With 170 events across the country, the diabetes walk raised $57 million for diabetes research last year for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

  • National Multiple Sclerosis Society Perhaps best known for its youth read-a-thon, the MS society also holds special fundraising bike rides, walks and runs across the country.

  • Climb for a Cure  The climb for a cure is an attempt to raise awareness for cancer through donations. While the  climb is not meant for regular citizens, you can help the climbing team by donating money though their Web site.

  • WalkAmerica The March of Dimes holds this yearly walking event to raise awareness of infant health problems.
Stay tuned for more in-depth posts on other ways to get in shape for a cause!