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Monday, June 27, 2011

Music With Soul

As you might have noticed- I am a little behind on posting. This is partly due to the general hecticness of life, but it is also a result of wedding season. I spent a long weekend in Sacramento for the lovely Love-Dumont wedding. The ceremony was beautiful and the vineyard reception was stunning - the only problem I can report over the whole weekend is that I was without reliable or free internet access. That being said I apologize for my blogging tardiness! To get back into the swing of things I've recruited some help.

Now, it is with great pleasure that I introduce today's guest blogger- my fiancé, Andrew. In addition to being an aerospace engineer and the most patient man alive, Andrew is a music enthusiast, a soccer fan and it just so happens, an excellent writer.  So with no further adieu, here is Andrew's post on music with a cause.

 When we began our wedding planning, Julie and I each made a list of the things that were priorities for us.  At the top of mine (well, alongside delicious food) was great music.  I wanted to have a band that people would remember, and as Engaged with a Cause took shape, also one that we could feel good about hiring.  Since our wedding is in New Orleans (a city that has had a rough decade, to say the least), we ideally wanted to find local musicians who were a part of the culture that we love so much.

I grew up going to public schools and participating in the music programs that they offered, so we were looking for ways to support students and their teachers. My brother-in-law (also musician, in my hometown of Lake Charles) put me in touch with the trumpeter John Gray.  Besides being a long time member and leader of numerous music groups in Louisiana (the Michael Foster Project, Soul Jukeboxx), John is also a music educator in Baton Rouge.  With budget crises putting pressure on public education (especially the arts and music programs), hiring a band with members who directly contribute to those programs was a no-brainer. After talking more with John and his musicians, it became clear that they go above and beyond playing gigs for money.

John Gray and his trumpet.
 Besides offering their services at a discount or free at some non-profit events, they often hold “informances” at schools in the community to share their love of music and knowledge of New Orleans tradition and history.  “We continue to give back as we grow in our music careers, because we know that children seeing us perform gives them encouragement to pursue music and get involved in the craft. For some children, they never see musicians with real instruments performing outside of the TV,” says John.  “Music education is so important for students during their middle school and high school development because of the discipline it teaches, as well as the creative spark that it encourages. Both discipline and creativity are vital if one wishes to be successful in any field.”

Another Louisiana-based organization doing good through music is T.H.E.S.E. straps.  The Heart Expresses Sound Everywhere is an organization that hand-makes guitar straps, and uses a portion of the profits to provide accessible instruments and music programs for impoverished communities around the world.  T.H.E.S.E. sponsors musicians by giving them quality guitar straps, the musicians enjoy and recommend them, and a small group of people make a big difference in the lives of children who might otherwise never get to play music.  T.H.E.S.E. is currently partnered with the Cambodia Children’s Sanctuary and LESPWA Means Hope in Haiti.
Children at the Cambodia Children's Sanctuary
 A few of my friends, who are T.H.E.S.E.-sponsored musicians, were among a list of acts that showcased their talents at last month’s Boogie for Books: Live Music for Literacy.  The musical fundraiser for the Literacy Council of Southwest Louisiana utilized musicians with roots in southwest Louisiana to celebrate reading, books, storytelling and music.  In addition to the festival staples of music and refreshments, the event also featured a book swap and booths set up to bring awareness to services offered by the council.  Proceeds went to support local literacy efforts, including day and evening classes for adults, GED preparation and English as a second language courses.

I was really surprised at how many instances of musicians giving back I came across, and I’ve only scratched the surface in one small region of our state.  Opportunities to give back through your choice of wedding entertainment are available in spades, and these local causes are examples of good places to start your search for music with soul.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Charitable Beers: Brewing for a Cause

Ahhh, Father’s Day! I wish I could be back in Louisiana with my dad. A bike ride and some blueberry picking sound perfect and I think my dad would agree that a good beer would be the perfect cap to the day. Luckily, the Abita Brew Pub is actually only about an 8 ½ mile jaunt from my parent’s house.  You might remember in a previous guest post, "Cheers for Charity," by my dear friend Manda Schweitzer, that she gave a nod to Abita Beer as a charitable brewer.

Manda’s post discussed how in 2010, in response to the BP oil spill, Abita joined forces with the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board (LSPMB), to form the SOS – A Charitable Fund to assist with the rescue and restoration of not only the coastal environment, but the industries and the individuals affected as well. Abita then developed an SOS charitable Pilsner and SOS related retail merchandise to generate money for the fund. This wasn’t Abita’s first charitable endeavor, you see, after Hurricane Katrina Abita Beer developed Restoration Pale Ale to help those affected by Katrina. In just two years, the special brew raised over $500,000.

I just love the New Orleans inspired packaging!
 Other breweries, such as 50 Back Fine Beer Purveyors, are taking similar strides. Company founders Paige Haley and Kimberly Rogers wanted to find a way to thank our active troops and veterans and their families for their many sacrifices. So, they developed 50 Back Lager- the brew of the brave. Every time someone buys 50 Back lager, 50% of the proceeds are donated to charities that support veterans and active service members and their families, such as the USO, Homes For Our Troops and more. Based in New England, the beer is quickly gaining popularity for its taste and mission. To learn more about where you can find 50 back visit their website, so you can enjoy a great lager and support the troops.

Can't get much more patriotic than that!
Finally, there is DC based Hook & Ladder. The Hook & Ladder Brewing Company is a mission-based brewery founded by Rich Fleischer, a volunteer firefighter and his business-minded brother, Matt. Hook & Ladder provides an exceptional line of beer while giving back to burned firefighters and burn survivors in communities across America and keeping donations local.  The beers include a golden ale, “Backdraft Brown,” and the “Flashpoint” pale ale, as well as a the cleverly titled seasonal “Ember Amber” and the "Pipe and Drum" Irish Ale.
The folks behind Hook & Ladder helping the DC Burn Foundation
The company also has a philanthropic program, A Penny in Every Pint, which further convinces distributors to match their gift, helping to raise $4 for each barrel of beer sold. Through the new A Quarter in Every Case program, Hook & Ladder and its wholesale partners donate 25 cents locally from each case sold to the same burn organizations that benefit from A Penny in Every Pint. Since 2005, Hook & Ladder has donated over $60,000 from its programs to help others. 

So, while I might not be a "beer girl," I know my dad appreciates a nice beer - particularly on stressful days, like, I don’t know, my wedding! Who says weddings have to be all champagne and signature cocktails? Not my dad, or my fiancé, that's for sure. We’ll be serving Abita Beer at the reception, and who knows, maybe next time my dad's in DC, we can do Father’s Day a bit late and I can treat him to a nice, cold Hook & Ladder beer. Local + charitable + beer, now what can be better than that?

With the whole family outside of Hoffbrau House, Munich, Germany.

 Happy Father’s Day, Daddy - and to all the other great Dad's out there too!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Smile and Say Charity!

I'm excited about this week's post because I get to highlight one of our own vendors -  Fine Arts Exposure, which is owned and operated by New Orleans based photographer Jessica Johanningmeier. When looking for a photographer, I was immediately drawn to Jessica’s mission of capturing un-posed, “real emotion," as well as her belief of approaching every wedding by looking for and showing its uniqueness. 

Dazzling picture by
Another lovely picture by Fine Arts Exposure
Sure, the bride usually dons a white dress- (not always though), "Shout!" plays, and cake is served, but every one adds their own touches - ones that can and should be captured by the photographer. As Jessica puts it, “there is different lighting depending on time of day and time of year, different locations, personalities, and preferences.” In the end, Jessica’s philosophy really meshed well with our vision of having a day filled with special elements that capture our personality as a couple.  Even more importantly, it just so happened that her belief in the importance of philanthropy also ran parallel to ours.

It turns out that not only is Jessica a talented photographer, but she is also the owner of N.O.W. (New Orleans Weddings) Magazine, a role she uses to help others. Since buying the magazine in 2008, she has made it a priority for the N.O.W. bridal shows to give back to others in some way.  

 Their first bridal show benefited ARNO (Animal Rescue New Orleans) and the 2010 bridal shows hosted by N.O.W. benefited the LA-SPCA, and the American Heart Association. N.O.W.’s next show, which will be held in August 2011, will again benefit the LA-SPCA. The magazine has also donated to March of Dimes, Kidd's Kids and the American Legion, and has plans to do so again in the near future.

For our wedding, Jessica decided to use some of our payment to make a donation from Fine Art Exposure to SmileTrain, which is an organization that is solely devoted to providing free cleft palate surgery for hundreds of thousands of poor children in third-world countries all across the globe. 

SmileTrain's mission is to provide a child born with a cleft with the same opportunities in life as a child born without. Unlike some charities that do many different things, Smile Train's mission is focused on solving a single problem: cleft lip and cleft palate.  

In developing nations clefts are a major problem. Millions of children suffer with un-repaired clefts. As a result of their disability, most cannot eat or speak properly. They are stigmatized as well and aren't allowed to attend school or hold a job. Clefts usually go untreated because the surgery is too expensive for poor children who have them. But there is good news - every single child with a cleft can be helped with a surgery that costs as little as $250 and takes as little as 45 minutes. Also, in addition to performing the surgery, SmileTrain treats the “whole child” with comprehensive, total rehabilitative care that includes speech therapy, general dentistry and orthodontics.

As a result of Jessica’s $500 donation to SmileTrain two children will get the chance at a new life. It is only fitting that as a photographer, Jessica has found a unique way to others a reason to smile.  To find out how you can make a donation to SmileTrain, visit their website.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tie One On, Part II

So, Andrew is going to his bachelor party in New Orleans this weekend. It will undoubtedly be filled with all the typical debauchery that goes on with all bachelor parties- especially those in New Orleans. Yet I’m hoping it isn’t quite as out of control as The Hangover...

If the Hangover has a sequel- can't my blog post?
As part of the festivities Andrew and his buddies are going to play paintball tomorrow and they’ve asked my dad along, which I think is a really nice gesture. It is also pretty brave- who wants to arm their future father-in-law with a gun, even if it is a paintball gun?

Anyway, it got me thinking. I’m not going to be able to hold my bachelorette party in NOLA- it will be here in DC, so I’m glad that Andrew and his friends will be pumping valuable tourist dollars into the city- even if most of those dollars aren’t spent exactly how I would spend them…

While home Andrew is trying to squeeze in a trip to the tux shop – to get himself and his guys fitted. Not sure they will be up to that on Sunday after a Saturday full of paintball, brewery tours and whatever else.

 You might remember my past blog on FIGS ties. For every hand-tailored tie sold, Figs gives a school uniform to a child in East Africa through their Threads for Threads program. The L.A.-based label has standard and bow ties in a variety of fabrics, ranging from woolen "Ivy League plaids" to "Italian silk woven bicycle patterns." They also offer custom ties, allowing for personal expression and they have a ton  of styles to choose from. 

Stylish silk Italian "Bicycle Ties"
 We seriously considered ordering FIGS ties as gifts for the men in our wedding, but the only drawback for us- considering the size of our wedding party- was the price. The ties, which are high quality, retail at about $85 a tie, which is reasonable for a few gents, but not 13, which is our total including the groomsmen, ushers and my dad. Wanting to keep the price down we opted for a lower cost alternative that also gives back.

Well it just so happens that recently, a primary school in the city of Kawangare, Kenya reached out to FIGS for help. Over 1,000 children at the school don't have the necessary uniform to attend school. Without clothing, they are denied a chance to attend and receive the education that they deserve. So, for the past five days, and for the next five days - FIGS will feature a new tie at 20% OFF for 24 hours. 

Today's deal- the solid velvet bow tie. Elegant formal wear that dresses you up so that others can too.
Essentially, this is a great way to get a discount on some hiqh-quality ties and bow ties, while also helping a great cause. What could be better?! And, with father’s day right around the corner- why not get dad a tie? Well, unless your dad is like my dad, in which case a paintball gun, might be a better gift, but that’s another story entirely.

Happy Shopping!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Autism Speaks: Giving others "Piece" of Mind

This weekend while at a fabulous wedding, the Belch-Gross wedding nonetheless, (you can’t make this stuff up!) somewhere between the cocktail hour and the cake cutting, I became fast friends with Amanda- an ardent advocate for autism. As is always the case with me, we got on the discussion of charitable weddings and how a bride could give back to – well, autism.

Wedding buddies.
Even with working in development for a non-profit and planning a charitable wedding- it is still easy to lose sight of the direct impact a donation can make- until you meet someone like Amanda, who works on the ground at the iASD - Intensive Autism Service Delivery Clinic. The iASD, which is housed within the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities in Morgantown, West Virginia, is run primarily off donations, with some grants on the side.  At the clinic, volunteer students are trained as therapists. Children on all ends of the autism spectrum go to the clinic anywhere from two to five days a week. Their therapy is supervised by a BCBA - Board Certified Behavior Analyst and all of the children receive ABA Therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis) and learn their letters, numbers, colors, items in the world, conversation, motor skills and much more through discrete trial training or DTT. 

Working with a child at iASD.
In West Virginia, legislation was just passed to provide insurance coverage for autism treatment, but it won't go into affect for some time.  Amanda informed me that currently the children at iASD are the only ones in the state receiving high quality therapy at no cost to them.  Other families have had to hire consultants from out of state because insurance wasn't paying, and out of pocket costs for this therapy can run up to $35,000 a children with autism in her state receive the proper therapy. This is not a problem that occurs just in West Virginia. In fact, in some states there is no legislation the books to provide insurance coverage to those afflicted with autism.

Autism is one of the fastest growing disorders in the world and it is extremely prevalent in the US- with 1 of every 110 babies being born with autism and one out of every 70 male babies now being born with it. The prevalence of autism increased 57 % from 2002 to 2006. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.

So, what are some ways that you can help children (and adults) with autism? I wondered, is there a way to use my wedding to give back to the cause? Enter Autism Speaks.

In February 2005, Autism Speaks was founded by Bob and Suzanne Wright. The Wright’s have a grandchild with autism. Since then, Autism Speaks has grown into the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization that is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism. The organization aims to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and advocate for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

Guest book pens with a cause?
Autism Speaks is home to “,” which is a unique online shopping mall where you can shop for the things you would normally buy, from the brands you would typically choose, and at the prices you would usually pay. But when you shop through the Autism Speaks sponsored site, you're also helping people with autism through all of your purchases. The over 500 retailers listed on the nonprofit shopping mall (NPSM) website pay a sales percentage or set fees to NPSM. NPSM, in turn, pays 60% of those Retailer Payments to Autism Speaks on a quarterly basis. The percentages or fees are fully disclosed by each retailer and appear underneath each retailer's logo. Stores include everything from Pro-Flowers to Netflix to Saks Fifth Avenue, with donations to Autism Speaks ranging from less than one percent to much higher.

Need teeth whitening before the big day? Try Go Smile's Lemonade Smile,
a toothpaste available  at Saks. Five percent of the proceeds goes to Autism Speaks.
Rather than buy small wedding gifts for each other, Andrew and I decided to make a big purchase together, which just so happens to be a bed set and mattress. So, one item that I found particularly interesting when researching the Autism Speaks products, were the two new, special edition Serta Autism Benefit Mattress that are available at over 150 Mattress Warehouse locations, as well as their online store.

So, these new mattresses are a great way to make our gift to our selves a charitable one.  For every Serta Naturale Comfort Autism Speaks mattress sold through until December 31, 2011, Mattress Warehouse will donate $100 to Autism Speaks. The mattresses feature the Autism Speaks "puzzle piece" design sewn into their covers.  For more information, please visit any Mattress Warehouse location or For bulk orders, customers are encouraged to call 1-800-233-7253.

To find out other ways to help Autism Speaks visit their website. To help (iASD) you can email Amanda at

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Giving Fling Before the Ring

I recently spoke with my friend Anna who is full of fun and creative ideas. Like me, Anna has a passion for the arts and all things not-for-profit.  She asked me if I was considering having a charitable bachelorette party. The answer is that of course I am considering it- in fact I have even requested that there be some charitable element to it, but aside from some slight hints- and now this blog post- I’ve left the planning to my lovely friends.   

I asked Anna what her suggestions for a charitable bachelorette party would be- she had quite a few, because as it turns out she has already thrown and attended a couple of them. So, I decided to interview Anna as an expert on charitable bachelorette parties; here’s what she had to say on the matter.

What sort of activities does one do at a charitable bachelorette party?
Well, one of my favorite bachelorette parties I've ever been a part of was for my friend Britt.  She's a warrior for social justice, so we chose to do a night of "good deeds."  We each pooled our money (I think we all contributed about $30-40 each), and with the number of girls in attendance (about 12) we were able to do several 'local' good deeds.  For example, we went to one of the electric companies in the city and asked if we could pay a bill for someone who needed the assistance (the companies are always willing to give you ways to 'donate' to accounts that they know are in trouble).  We also went through a few drive-thru restaurants and paid for the people behind us, then told the clerk to simply tell the next car to "pass it on."  Then we went to the Rice Depot and packaged up rice to be delivered to families in Little Rock (Rice is a staple food that can feed a lot of people, and it is one of Arkansas' main exports). Originally, we wanted to end our night serving a meal at a local shelter, but we were unable to because of time.

Awesome! But that sounds like a lot of work! Did you relax at all??
Of course, we had a sleepover in a hotel, drank cheap champagne, had a dance party and watched our favorite chick flicks from when we were in junior high and high school.  The important thing was that we were all together, and we were happy to spend money on people who really needed it because that was what made the bride the happiest and it was, of course, her night after all.  We were able to give the bride (Brittany) exactly what she wanted. And have fun too.

Anna (far right) with the very charitable bride and wedding party!
How can people get help coming up with ideas for fun activities?
The website gives a lot of ideas if you choose to do a kind of competition where there is a list of random acts of kindness that each carload of people has to do, such as paying for the order of the car behind you.  The list ranges from paying for some one's electric bill (like we did) to raking leaves in a random yard.  This activity is almost like a reverse scavenger hunt: instead of receiving, you're giving!

Any other ideas that you didn’t use that might be good for a charitable bachelorette or bachelor party?
Another thing we were considering: The Heifer Project headquarters are in Little Rock, and they have a “village” that simulates how people in the countries in which Heifer operates live.  You sleep, make food, wash yourself, etc. exactly how they do so you can get a feel for the needs of the people to which you are potentially donating farm animals and other aid. Heifer International helps families improve their nutrition and generate income with gifts of livestock and training. 

We thought about staying at the village for a bachelorette party. I did it in high school and it was a great experience- maybe I'll do it for my own bachelorette party one day! It could even be done for a bachelor party because for the guys it would almost be like a camping trip (though there's no alcohol). The cost of staying there goes right back to Heifer- so it’s charitable.  
A volunteer at the Heifer village
Have you known any brides that put a charitable component in their own bachelorette party?
I did have another friend who did a quickie canned food drive at the beginning of her bachelorette party in order to stock up her church's food pantry.  It just seems natural that if someone is trying to have a 'charitable' wedding, one could/should include that in the pre-wedding activities as well.  

Any other ideas for making charitable giving fun? The bachelorette party- is a party after all!
Well, take the canned food drive for example. All the girls can pile into two cars (you can make it a competition!) and go to a neighborhood.  Pick one or two streets and just go door-to-door explaining the types of items you need, why you're doing this, who it will help.  When we did it- it was a lot of fun, because we did it competition style.  We collected at least 200 items that included canned items, unopened boxes/bags of cereal, popcorn and chips, and even packages of diapers (a big and expensive need for a lot of families that most food pantries also need). You can let the bride choose an organization like Feeding America and set a time limit and a list of acceptable items.  Some items can be "worth more" than others, like a package of diapers is 10 points and a can of food is two points.  You can decide on what the winning team will get (it could be a bag of 'goodies' from the dollar store or something funny like foot rubs from the other team).  

So, it looks like there are ways to avoid the traditional bachelorette scavenger hunt, which includes items like “find a bald guy and kiss his head” in favor of a game that gives back. Nice! Thanks for all the great tips Anna!