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Monday, February 28, 2011

Dear New Orleans: Love Notes that Save Lives

I first heard about Dear New Orleans from my wedding planner, Emily Sullivan of Get Polished Events.  Emily thought that Dear New Orleans, which is billed as “the ongoing social collection of Love Letters to the City,” would be the perfect match for our charitable wedding mission. Dear New Orleans will be providing their rather unique photography services for our rehearsal dinner, but they also do weddings, corporate events and more.

The lovely Get Polished staff at a recent Dear New Orleans shoot
Essentially, Dear New Orleans is an interactive photo booth.  The photographers show up to your site and take pictures of you and your guests. The twist? Guest write messages or “love notes” on their arms and hands. Don’t worry- the markers are all dry erase, so no shadowy sharpie tattoos in your wedding pictures.

The idea itself is novel- notes written on the body and photographed as keepsakes, but what makes Dear New Orleans truly special, is its socially conscious commitment.  Founder Robert X. Fogarty and Creative Director Benjamin Reece believed strongly that Dear New Orleans should give back to the city that gave them their start.  So, they founded Dear New Orleans as a double bottom line company- a for-profit that also benefits the not-for-profit, Ten percent of Dear New Orleans’ net revenue goes into developing a technology and new media investment fund for the non-profit organization, which was established after Hurricane Katrina to aid the city in both evacuation planning and execution.

A map of's evacuation points around New Orleans, where people can go to evacuate safely. recruits, trains, and manages evacuation volunteers (evacuteers) who assist with New Orleans’ public evacuation option called the City Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP). The CAEP activates when a mandatory evacuation is called in the city of New Orleans and is designed to move almost 30,000 New Orleanians who would otherwise not have without transportation. New Orleans has successfully implemented the plan once, in advance of Hurricane Gustav (Sept. 2008), when 18,000 residents utilized the CAEP. 

In the future, plans to export to other the project to other major American cities.  In addition to their active role in evacuation planning, the organization also develops academic, peer reviewed emergency preparedness research, as well as new and social media emergency preparedness campaigns.’s flagship initiative with the City of New Orleans is to commission public art that will serve dual purposes as both art, and hurricane evacuation pick up point markers. 

 Dear New Orleans’ has gained a great deal of attention for its flagship project, which is called "Love Notes to New Orleans,” which features photographs of prominent local and national celebrities showing their love for New Orleans through love notes written on their hands and arms. Dear New Orleans and its photographers have photographed Saints' quarterback Drew Brees, Dr. John, Susan Sarandon, Saints' player Reggie Bush, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and thousands of other people who've lived and loved, laughed and played in New Orleans.

Now for some exciting news- Dear New Orleans is coming to Washington, D.C. tonight!  The one night only photo shoot event is being held at Bayou in Georgetown here in Washington, DC. Bayou will be serving $5 Hurricanes and will have specials on Louisiana’s own Abita beer, but the event is free of charge due to the generosity of  Second Line, a social innovation conference being held in New Orleans during the week of Jazz Fest.
 So, if you are in the DC area- come check them out! If you can’t make it out tonight, you can see more pictures by Dear New Orleans on their Facebook, Flickr and Smug Mug pages.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

If the Cause Fits- Wear It!

So, I spent the past weekend in NYC, where I got to spend some quality time with Paxton, my dear friend and bridesmaid extraordinaire.  While we managed to enjoy a leisurely evening of tapas and sangria, as well as a yummy brunch, most of our time was spent shopping. Not just ordinary clothing shopping, but something much more onerous - shopping for shoes.

I know, as a woman my heart is supposed to flutter at the thought of a new pair of heels.  My heartbeat does speed up, but more out of anxiety than anything resembling pleasure and excitement.  This is mostly due to the fact that as of late, my feet are a blistered mess. 

So, why go shoe shopping? One word: weddings! My best friend and Matron of Honor in my own wedding is getting hitched in less than a month. As her Maid of Honor, I will be donning a lovely midnight blue silk dupioni dress and in theory, a sassy pair of neutral toned heels. 
The oh so sexy and sassy "Midge" from actress Kristin Bell.
My feet seem to have other plans.  After hours on Prince Street I left incredibly frustrated and sans high heels.  It left me wondering- even if I can’t find the perfect fit -can I find a way to give back with a pair of heels or flats? 

We’ve all heard of TOMS charitable shoes, but it turns out that there are other shoe designers that are cued into the socially conscious movement.  The Kenneth ColeAwearness Foundation” is a not-for-profit advocacy organization that seeks to raise awareness about AIDS related issues. Each year, the foundation partners with a different AIDS organization to help bring attention to the cause. Awearness products, such as black rubber boots, raise money for the chosen charity.  The foundation is currently partnered with AMFAR, which is dedicated to ending the global AIDS epidemic through innovative research.

The Awearness products are really functional, but they are not necessarily traditional wedding attire.   The same can be said for TOMS- the wedges are super cute for a shower or casual wedding, but what if you need something a little bit more formal?

Gone are the days of matching dyed shoes for the bridesmaids and mandatory white shoes for the bride.  Different colored shoes are a great way to add a spark to your wedding.  Wearing colored heels can also be a great way to raise awareness for a cause.  Over the past decade, the color pink has become ubiquitous with breast cancer awareness.  Designers have taken note and teamed up with non-profits to design pink shoes that raise money for breast cancer research.  Last October, during breast cancer awareness month, some of the hottest brands including Marc Jacobs, Juicy Couture, Diane von Furstenburg and Ralph Lauren joined forces to be part of 100 Hot Pink Heels for Breast Cancer.  The shoes were available in a variety of price ranges from Forever 21’s Priscilla Patent shoe at $13.99 to Christian Louboutin’s $645.00 Decoltissimo pumps.  
Christian Louboutin’s pink pumps for the cure.  

While not quite as well known, the American Heart Association’s "Go Red for Women" campaign to raise awareness about heart disease in women has grown in popularity as well.  ShoeDazzle’s Lauren shoe is currently selling a special red pump to raise awareness for heart disease. Ten percent of the proceeds benefit WomenHeart. 

ShoeDazzle also features nude heels designed by actress Kristen Bell. The shoes are sold at and all proceeds from the $39.00 heels go to the Art of Elysium,  a non-profit organization that encourages working actors, artists and musicians to voluntarily dedicate their time and talent to children who are battling serious medical conditions.  Ms. Bell actually designed the "Midge" shoe with the help of kids from Shriner's Hospital for Children in Los Angeles.

Kristin Bell with a fellow shoe designer.
These are just a few of the many options for shoes that give back.  I'd love to hear from you about other ways your footwear is making a difference- high heel run for charity anyone? Vegan shoes? More to come- this is just the first, well-heeled step!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Sweet Favor

I'm happy to post another co-authored piece with my fabulous sister Caroline.  You might remember her sweet February 3rd post on Cakes for Cause.   Not long after researching for that piece, I ran across another tasty treat that gives back. So once again, I enlisted my dessert savvy sister’s help. I have to admit that my sweet tooth is pretty much limited to frozen yogurt, oatmeal cookies and the occasional scoop of gelato.  My sister, on the other hand, is an expert on all things chocolate.  So, in case you didn’t get enough sweets and treats on Valentine’s Day.  Here’s Caroline’s take on all things dessert and most importantly, truffles. 

 Caroline shows her love for all things chocolate as she bids farewell to her last bite of a fabulous tiramisu.

I am the cupcake girl. 

Two years ago the only thing I could make in the kitchen was a mess (I know that is old and not really funny, but it very much applies in this case). 

But in the past year, I decided to tie on an apron and get in the kitchen.  First order of business: buy cute aprons.  I immediately realized something.  I hate cooking.  But, I did learn how to feed myself – you know, the whole teach a man to fish thing. 

Then came birthday: enter cake balls.  Cake Balls [keyk bawl-s] are mini ball shaped cake deserts dripped in bakers chocolate.  I made them for my friend’s birthday and people loved them!  I realized something: I love baking!  I can create delicious treats and soften my image at one time – two birds, one stone.

My family and friends loved my cake balls, cookies, cupcakes and truffles enough to enable my addiction. For Christmas I received the following:  cupcake shaped soap, cupcake magnets, a book titled “1001 Cupcakes,” a cupcake ornament and many other cupcake knick knacks (including underwear). 

I am now, apparently, a cupcake collector.  I can see it now, for years to come, a relative will say “What should I get Caroline this year?” 

“Oh, she’s crazy for cupcakes,” aunt so-and-so will reply.
I will then receive several cupcake figurines.  And that is how creepy ceramic menageries start. But, I digress. Now that you know (God knows why I shared), my passion for all things chocolate coated.  I swear I have a point:

There is a way to incorporate sweet treats into your wedding and help others at the same time. Here’s how:

Truffles for a Cause creates elegant truffles that make the perfect wedding favors for your big day. The high-quality truffles are made in the European tradition of mixing fresh heavy cream and cocoa to form a creamy ganache for the center of the chocolates.  (Yum!) 

 Even more exciting- these delectable morsels come with an extra special twist- they also allow the couple to raise social awareness or make a charitable gift in a unique way. Couples can choose a medical or humanitarian charity of their choice to support.  To date the organization has already supported a myriad of medical and humanitarian charities, including the Wounded Warrior Project and the American Cancer Society.  Additionally, the delectable candies in petite boxes can be customized with different color ribbons that suit each bride’s wedding décor. 

Truffles for A Cause favors adorned with the signature pink ribbon of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation
Truffles for a Cause also offers couples the option of purchasing either “charitable” or “awareness” favors. When you choose the “charitable favor” option Truffles For A Cause donates a portion of the proceeds from each favor to the charity of your choice.  The “awareness favors” are designed to bring attention to your favorite charity and they are a great option for couples with smaller budgets.  (They are 75 cents to $1.25 less than the charitable favors). Both types of donations include your charity's name and website address on a small card, as well as framed table cards describing your charity and its mission. The truffles range from $2.35 to $6.00 a favor, depending on the assortment that you choose.  For more information on the various packages, see the products page on the website.

While some brides (like my sister Julie) don’t like chocolate- well actually, Julie might be the only woman I know who doesn’t like chocolate, but others, like myself couldn’t imagine a world or a wedding without it. Truffles for a Cause offers a great way to indulge and do something sweet for others.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Searching for the Perfect Little Green Dress

Editor's note: I'd like to give a special thanks to Laura Rankin, owner of Green With Envy Events, for her lovely post on Engaged With A Cause last week on her blog.   Laura is an expert on all things green and her event planning company, Green With Envy Events plans green weddings in DC and San Diego, CA. She is also the president of the DC chapter of NEST, which I recently joined. 

So, a few weeks ago I said yes to the dress, which is a big deal, but it is only the start.  I still had seven bridesmaids and a couple of flower girls that needed to get outfitted.  In many ways, the challenge of making so many ladies happy is the most daunting one of all.  My mission to find the perfect bridesmaid dress was only complicated by the fact that I was also searching for the perfect color- some odd combination of gold and green that would hopefully not look like- well, eh something gross.

My bridesmaids politely feigned surprise at my color choice and then laughed because they said they had been planning on wearing my signature olive color for years- it was after all the color they associated me with. So the search began, for what they have dubbed “Julie’s Green.”

Julie's "Green" (left), also known as Doro or Golden Olive
 When discussing my bridesmaid dress dilemma with fashion photographer Walter Grio from Shoot for Change he suggested that I check out his friend Elizabeth’s brand Little Flowers.  He told me that she was a DC area based designer with a lot of talent, as well as a penchant for philanthropic causes and eco-friendly fabrics.

After some perusing of her website, I discovered that Liz had not one, but three brands under her belt Odyssey Apparel umbrella. Besides Little Flowers, she also has the Amore and Elizabeth St John Couture Bridal Collection lines.  

So, on a cold January morning, my roommate and I drove to Elizabeth’s workshop to get a firsthand look at her designs and find out more about her mission and passion, and of course continue the search for the green of my dreams.

Upon arriving we sat down and quickly got down to business.  I answered questions about how many bridesmaids I had and we discussed short vs. long, etc. Slowly, but surely however, Liz’s passion for the environment and other pet causes began to emerge as she explained the source of all her fabrics. For all her collections, the materials that are sourced are sustainable and come from natural fibers, like hand woven silks and sustainable cottons. All the fabric manufacturers that she purchases from employ fair-trade labor. In her couture collections, she even uses PET satin taffeta linings made from recycled plastic bottles. 

Elizabeth St. John Couture "Calypso" dress from the Fall 2010 collection
 She also spoke to me about her goal of achieving a "ZERO waste" factor during the manufacturing and design process. Rather than trash the cuttings and remnants that accumulate during the design phase,  instead she refashions them into hand-worked flowers and accents.  100% of the dresses are hand cut and hand finished and detailed.  Her "ZERO waste" philosophy extends to business operations as well, there are no printed catalogues and copying is minimized as much as possible.  She hopes to be completely "off-the grid" by the end of 2012, using only solar and wind power for her offices and manufacturing facilities. She is a regularly featured designer/manufacturer on the Green Bride Guide

I was floored by her extensive eco-policies and really admired her craftsmanship as well. I tepidly brought up my blog and my mission for my wedding, as I always do when meeting with potential vendors and partners.  When telling people about giving back via a wedding they are often worried that I am really asking for pro bono or a donation, which is not the case.

Elizabeth really liked my concept and giving back would be no problem for her- because she already has it built into her business model.  Five percent of the proceeds from the sales of EVERY dress in her collection support wildlife conservation efforts around the world as well as empowerment initiatives for disadvantaged women in areas of extreme poverty and conflict.  I learned that a percent of the sales from my bridesmaid dresses would go to supporting the development of vocational training schools for women in Haiti & Afghanistan.  If I were searching for red or orange colored dresses, 25% of the proceeds would go to IUCN Red Listed wildlife

"Cecelia" dress by Little Flowers
In addition to her dress philanthropy, Elizabeth, a veteran of the State Department and the not-for-profit sector, also serves as the President for the Universal Strategic Services Foundation.   The Foundation “works at the crossroads of human needs and the environment.”  With projects like the Inclusive Solar Power (ISP) project, the Foundation aims to provide sustainable energy to the poorest regions of the world. Providing these people with long-term, clean energy sources is a way “to foster economic growth, improve living conditions and protect indigenous environments.”

I left my meeting with Elizabeth energized, but also nervous.  While she didn’t have large swatches available in the exact green I was looking for, she assured me she did have something that would work in a lovely eco-friendly silk shantung fabric. The color was called Doro, but the swatches were not in and they would have to be mailed to me. 

I awaited the arrival of the swatches rather anxiously, checking my mail every day. When they finally arrived I was thrilled- the treasure hunt was finally over- I had found it- Doro was the perfect green! It also just so happened to be environmentally “green” and support a cause that was near and dear to my heart- helping women find their way out of poverty through education.  I was also excited that both the Little Flowers and the Amore lines provide customizable options. So while all the girls will be wearing the same color and fabric, each dress will be a customized creation that my girls can create themselves, making it more likely that they will wear them again- even if they are “puke” green.

Elizabeth’s collections offer options for brides, maids and flower girls and are available for purchase in boutiques throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Check out her website for more information on sizing, customization options and fabrics.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Flower Power

We all know what next Monday is: Valentine’s Day.  For some people, February 14 conjures visions of chocolate and romance, for others it is just another holiday created by greeting card companies.  I have to admit I fall somewhere in between.  While my fiancé and I don’t completely forgo the holiday, we haven’t ever celebrated it traditionally.  (My favorite Valentine’s gift was a pair of tickets to Radiohead). Yet I can’t help but notice what the perfect Valentine’s gift normally includes: chocolate, roses, something heart shaped and…you guessed it -FLOWERS. 

Flowers have become an essential part of the Valentine’s Day ritual, just as they have taken their place as one of the most important aspects of modern weddings. Flowers line the aisle, decorate the chuppah and make up centerpieces at tables during the reception.  From the bouquets to the  boutonnières, floral arrangements make up a considerable amount of the wedding budget.

Having your wedding in a botanical garden or arboretum can help take the edge off your flower costs and also help make your wedding more environmentally friendly.  These types of venues are also often not-for-profits, so your rental fee can help go toward preserving a beautiful natural space.  You can find lists of botanical gardens and arboretums by state.

The New York Botanical Garden.
 If an outdoor garden wedding doesn’t necessarily mesh with your style, there are other ways that you can make sure your flower choices are socially conscious. One great way to give back with flowers is to buy arrangements that benefit a cause., a Las Vegas-based e-commerce provider servicing the flower and gift industry, has teamed with The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN) to do just this.  Twelve percent of the proceeds go to benefit pancreatic cancer prevention, awareness and research. They offer flowers for any occasion, including centerpieces.  While many brides might not be comfortable ordering their flowers online, they can still use this site to buy flowers as thank you gifts for family members or as decoration for the bridesmaid luncheon .

PANCAN's "Clear Day" arrangement of Asiatic lilies and chrysanthemums benefits a great cause.

 Another important aspect of planning a socially conscious wedding is giving back- to the environment.  One of the web’s best resources for eco-friendly weddings,, offers Green Weddings 101 to answer all your eco-wedding questions.  According to the guide, over 50% of the florists in the U.S. imported flowers that are sprayed with pesticides that could potentially be harmful to your health.

They recommend using local, seasonal and organic flowers, which are not sprayed with toxic chemicals.  Shopping locally also helps to lower transportation costs, such as fuel consumption. When you shop local, you also shop seasonal, so  your costs are lower because no exotic, out-of-season flowers need to be shipped. GreenBrideGuide also suggests that you work with your florist to design arrangements that use faux flowers or other accoutrements like feathers or seasonal fruits and vegetables.  Check out their vendor directory for more information on florists in your area who use sustainable practices. 

Flowers at the Dupont Farmer's Market in Washington, DC.
 Another way to make sure your flower choices are socially conscious is to make sure they have a second life. Before signing a contract with your florist find out if he or she is willing to pick up and deliver the flowers to a worthy cause after the wedding or reception is over. In many cases florists have existing relationships with local charities and can deliver leftover flowers to them.

Asheville, North Carolina based Second Bloom specializes in doing just this - they collect flowers after weddings, holiday parties, and other events featuring fresh flowers, and redistribute them to nursing homes, hospices and other long-term care facilities. The organization is almost entirely run by volunteers who collect the flowers, transport them to the facilities and even sit down with residents to create the bouquets that are distributed.

With so many options to choose from, it is important that you find the best option for you.  While we haven’t selected a florist yet, my fiancé and I plan to choose seasonal flowers and use reusable centerpieces that can be donated to local organizations in need.  Who says buying flowers can't feel just as great as receiving them?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

You Can Have Your Cake and Eat it Too!

Today's post is co-authored by my little sister Caroline.  You might remember Caroline's December 18th guest post on TOMS shoes.   When I began research for this piece, I knew I needed a dash of her wit, a heaping tablespoon of her expertise as Editor of LSU's Legacy magazine and a cup of her enthusiasm for baking to help me share this extra sweet way to give back. I'll let her tell you a little bit more about her special connection with wedding cakes.

As a baby I was born prematurely and had several complications in my first year.  Thank goodness, I can’t remember them.  But, I know it is something my cautious parents and caring big sister remember very well. As a result of these complications, I was only allowed to eat what my mom calls “pre-digested” formula made in a lab for my first year.  Yum!

At least, that’s what my mother thought. 

When Julie was five (I was six months), she was the flower girl in my aunt’s wedding.  It was a wonderful day for Julie … until my cousin Laura caught the bouquet (ironically Julie is getting married six months before her) and Julie was scolded by a scary great-aunt for eating icing off the uncut wedding cake.  As a five-year-old, I can only imagine the turmoil she was feeling for losing to Laura and being punished for a crime she didn’t commit. Julie swore for years she did not stick her fingers in the wedding cake, but someone obviously had.  She was vindicated about 10 years later.  We were watching the wedding video and noticed something interesting in the background.

Baby’s first sugar!

Diet be damned, my grandma was sticking her manicured hand into the cake and letting me taste my first non-chemical regurgitated mush.  Judging by my face, I thought it was pretty awesome.

So, I guess in a round about way I am trying to show how important the wedding cake is to the event and the guests.  Maybe I am just a little biased. But wouldn’t it be great if your cake could give back to great cause?

Here’s how: Cakes for Cause is a Frederick, MD based organization run by individuals who have worked for over 30 years in the child welfare system.  Through its social enterprise business, Moxie Bakery and Café, Cakes for Cause employs young people who live in foster care, have recently aged out of foster care, or who have been adopted.  Purchases from the cafe and donations to the organization support the apprenticeships with the bakery, as well as extra curricular activities.

Moxie Bakery apprentice Christina Quinn readies chocolate-toffee cookies for the oven.
Courtesy of: Rebecca Sheir and WAMU
Apprentices in the program work up to 30 paid hours per week at the café and are provided with a full uniform and all the necessary curriculum materials.  In addition to working as restaurant employees, the Cakes for Cause staff serve as mentors to each apprentice.  These mentors work to help the youth reach their personal, vocational, and financial goals.

Since opening in 2009, Moxie Bakery & Cafe has generated more than $200,000 of retail revenue to support the operation of Cakes for Cause and its apprenticeship program. The café offers a small lunch menu as well as a longer listing of sweet treats. While Cakes for Cause specializes in making delicious tiny treats- such as tea cookies, scones and handmade croissants, they also make “celebration cakes” that can be customized to meet your vision. So whether you need a cookies for the bridal shower, scones for the bridesmaid brunch or even the cake for the big day- with Cakes for Cause, the options are limitless.
Sated Guests, Helping Others, Happy You! It’s a win, win, win!