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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Giving Back to Make Your Move Easier

This week's post is another gem by my fiance Andrew. During our move and as we settle in to our new place, he's made sure that our old household items go to helping some great causes. In this post Andrew explores how we [and you] can give old, borrowed, and blue items a new life by donating them to someone in need. 

A big part of getting married and starting a new life together is moving into a new home. Two people, who often have two complete sets of living essentials, coming together in their new abode will likely experience an overflow of stuff. Add to this the fact that most of your wedding gifts will be nicer versions of this stuff, and you can quickly start to feel overwhelmed with having too many things and nowhere to put them.

We managed to make room in our new place for our grill, but some of the other big items had to find new homes.
We recently had the same realization, and had the added fun of waiting until it was too late for an effective garage sale or craigslist posting. Fortunately, we were both in a position to be able to part with many of our possessions without getting monetary compensation in return; after working with a few local and national organizations, though, the sense we got of really making a difference in someone’s life was better than a few quick bucks.

To give away our large items, like furniture or appliances, we worked with two different organizations in the Washington, DC area that benefit different groups in need. Both groups’ policies of having volunteers and vehicles available to collect large items from your house makes donating these hard-to-handle items as easy as scheduling a pickup time. Pathways to Housing employs a unique model based on the simple idea that “Housing First ends homelessness.” Pathways to Housing was founded by Dr. Sam Tsemberis in 1992, and is widely credited as being the originator of the Housing First model of addressing homelessness among people with psychiatric disabilities.

The Housing First model is to provide housing first, and then combine that housing with supportive treatment services in the areas of mental and physical health, substance abuse, education, and employment. Housing is provided in apartments scattered throughout a community. This "scattered site" model fosters a sense of home and self-determination, and it helps speed the reintegration of Pathways’ clients into the community.

Another organization that picks up furniture in order to provide it to those in need is Disabled American Veterans. They operate under a similar mission statement, “…to support disabled veterans in need, [by focusing] primarily on supporting proven, successful, long-term rehabilitation programs for homeless veterans in our local communities.” Combine these services with the fact that many cities require you to schedule bulk trash pickup ahead of time anyway, and in some cases charge you a fee, and finding a local organization like these makes the minor effort more than worthwhile. If these two groups aren’t available in your area, head over to to make finding a similar option a breeze.

For smaller items, like kitchenware, bedding and clothes, there are well-established and well-known organizations like Goodwill Industries International and the Salvation Army that we used frequently to lighten our load prior to the big move. Besides providing those in need with quality goods at affordable prices, last year Goodwill alone helped over 170,000 people find jobs, and served over 2.4 million with employment and training programs. Remember, though, that all the items you donate should be lightly-used, clean, and in working condition. One of my personal favorite ideas was suggested to me by my sister years ago, and I have made use of it and told others many times since; for items like toys, electronics or video games, your local Women’s Shelter is sure to have children whose days will be made brighter by these donations.

Julie also donated older items from her business wardrobe to an organization called Dress For Success, which takes lightly worn suits, blazers, and other essential pieces and distributes it to women in need of work clothes. These donated dress clothes are also given to women going through the interview process so that they can make a good first impression on potential employers and feel confident about their appearance. Since 1997, Dress for Success has served more than 550,000 women in the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Mexico, Poland and the West Indies.

Dress for Success serves clients by referral only, and women must have an interview scheduled before receiving clothing. Women come to Dress for Success for wardrobe assistance from a diverse group of non-profit and government agencies including homeless shelters, immigration services, job training programs, educational institutions and domestic violence shelters, among many other organizations.  

Realizing that often the women coming to them needed additional help finding and keeping jobs, Dress for Success established the Professional Women's Group (PWG) program, which offers women ongoing support as they successfully transition into the workforce, to build thriving careers and prosper in the mainstream workplace.  Dress for Success also has developed Career Center, that provides women with career guidance and the chance to acquire technology skills and assistance in their job searches. To learn more about Dress for Success' many successful programs, visit their website where you will also be able to find a Dress for Success clothing drop-off location near you.

Books and magazines seemed to multiply during the pre-move organization, and we had no room or no more use for a lot of these still-useful-to-others items. A local organization called Books for America is “a Bookstore with a Purpose.” Their mission is “to build and improve libraries in Washington, DC area schools, shelters, prisons and more; we support reading programs; and we provide children in the Nation's Capital with their first take-home books!” In 2010, they gave more than $600,000 worth of books and materials to DC schools, shelters and educational programs. If you don’t have a local facilitator like Books for America to find good homes for your unwanted books and magazines, keep in mind your local library, school, or senior center and inquire to find out what items they need.

By donating what you can before you move, you not only make it easier on yourself by arranging for large items to be picked up ahead of time and reducing small item clutter with periodic donations, but you provide a valuable service by giving to those who desire the same kind of warm and welcoming home you’re preparing for yourself.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gifts for My Gals: Soap That Gives Hope

Following my bachelorette party, I wanted to find extra special ways to thank my girls from making the trek to DC. Since I’m not into cookie cutter thank yous or gifts, I wanted to find something personal for all my party hostesses and guests. My next series of posts is on some awesome charitable products out there that made the perfect gifts for my gals.

In honor of her birthday today, I thought I'd first post about my wonderful Matron of Honor, Rachael. For Rach, I wanted to get something naturally made, pretty, and useful. Rach is a bit of a health nut (she's a med student) and is uber organized.  She keeps a particularly clean, welcoming home. As a newlywed, Rach is still in the unpacking phase as she and her hubby settle in to married life. So, what could make a better gift than some natural, chemical-free decorative soaps?

When I found Besem Natural Scents, I knew it was the perfect fit. They sell all-natural soaps and candles. They have a ton of fantastic options to choose from! When ordering from their Etsy shop, I was allowed to choose six different scented “guest soaps” to create a customized set. I was able to choose between Almond Honey & Oats, Cinnamon Spice, Lavender Harvest, Lemon Tea, Old Hippie, Orange Blossom, Pink Grapefruit, Rosemary Mint, Rustic Pine, Sweet Anisette, Unscented Honey and Oats, and Vanilla Chai. Click here for full descriptions of all the scents offered.
The guest soaps :)
Each bar in the set is hand cut and weighs just one to two ounces, roughly 1/4 of a full size bar of soap. – making them a very cute addition to the soap dish in her new guest bathroom. All the soaps are cured for at least four weeks to ensure hard, long lasting bars and they are loaded with shea and cocoa butters. Besem uses no artificial foaming agents. Instead, they make soap the old fashioned way combining olive oil, coconut oil, organic palm kernel oil, rice bran oil, castor oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter with lye.

Now for the best part - 10% of Besem’s profits are given to orphan relief. Initially, their products were developed to help raise money to help pay for the families own two adoptions. But after the adoptions they were inspired to help raise awareness about the need for loving families and the great benefits to those families who open their homes to provide children with "forever" families. Last spring, some of their donation went to buy craft supplies for the children at the Orphanage for the Disabled. To find out more about other ways the 10% gives back, visit their website

Crafts made by the orphans as a result of Besem's donation.
Besem also assists others with raising funds to pay for adoptions. In order to host a fundraiser, all you need to do is confirm that you want to start a fundraiser and set up a code that your family and friends can type in the “message to seller” upon checkout, like “Smith fundraiser.” You can then send an email to everyone you know and direct them to the Besem Etsy shop. If your friends and family put your name in the message to seller, you receive 25% of each of their purchases (minus the shipping charges). Besem keeps track of what is purchased, how much they owe you, and who bought items for your family’s benefit (in case you want to keep track and write thank you notes). They then send you a check every two weeks, or for as long as they owe you at least $10.

I was excited to discover that Rach’s gift was helping to benefit children. As an almost-pediatrician, Rach’s love for kids is one of her most defining attributes and I knew getting a thank you gift that makes kids' lives better would be the greatest gift I could give her.

Rachael with a patient in Belize during a Medical Mission Trip.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Boutique for the Greater Good(s)

It’s been a few years now since I lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but I still try to make it back to visit my sister – and some of my favorite people and old haunts. It’s not too often that I do make it back, and it is less often that I find a new favorite spot in my old city, but now I have, the all things socially conscious boutique, Noelie Harmon

I first heard of the boutique when my sister had a modeling gig for them a year or so ago. The photos were gorgeous, but other than that I knew little about the store. Then my sister showed up in DC this summer sporting the cutest shorts I'd ever seen. She told me they were “recycled vintage,” meaning they had been made from more than slightly worn vintage pieces and given new life – and they were from Noelie Harmon, the same boutique she modeled for. The shorts are made by Josh Holder, a partner with Noelie Harmon and the owner of Time Warp – an amazing vintage boutique (and one of my Baton Rouge must stops when in town).
My beautiful little sister in a stunning dress - in her Noelie Harmon modeling debut.

Wanting to find a pair of said shorts and curious about the boutique, I visited there during my recent trip home. I also had hopes of finding a cool recycled materials type gift to give along with my Hives For Lives honey to the hostesses of my eco-chic shower.

The absolutely fabulous shorts. Photo courtesy of Noelie Harmon blog.
Well, when I walked into Noelie Harmon, I was shocked to discover that it was not only eco-friendly, it was also chock full of charitable, vintage, and local products – pretty much the Mothership for me, They even designate which of the above categories (sometimes multiple) each product falls into! The icons show whether a product is: Eco-friendly, Fair Trade, Socially Responsible or made by a Local Artisan.

So, where did a store this fabulous come from? Appropriately, Noelie Harmon opened on Earth Day, April 22, 2008. The brainchild of co-owners Jennifer Gatz Fowler and Amy Strother Gatz, the store is based on the concept of finding lines of fashion and designs that come from good companies that pay attention to the environment and take care of their employees.

The mission of Noelie Harmon is to provide the local Baton Rouge community with products that are both uniquely designed and made with social consciousness in mind. When Noelie Harmon looks for products to be sold in their store, they diligently research its background and designer and when possible, they even try to personally meet the designer or artist.

During my visit, I was truly impressed with how much the manager, Jo Gremillion, knew about all the products. She could easily point me in the direction of items that were within my budget and met my “socially conscious” mission. Thanks to Jo, I ended up leaving Noelie Harmon with a great yellow vintage skirt that I belted into a dress, a sassy “Mexican style” dress, and of course – four lovely hand crèmes for my shower hostesses. 

The hand crèmes, which are made by socially conscious brand Love & Toast, come in several awesome scents, including Gin Blossom and Honey Coconut. As with Noelie Harmon, at the heart of love & toast’s business model is its simple philosophy: it is just as important to do good as it is to look good. A portion of every love & toast purchase goes to Regional Affiliates of Girls, Inc., a charity that encourages girls of all ages through research-based programs and advocacy.

Girls, Inc.'s programs empower girls to reach their full potential and to understand their value and to assert their rights. In 2009, Girls Inc. reached over 900,000 girls through Girls Inc. affiliates, our website, and educational publications. And, even better - love & toast uses natural and organically certified ingredients whenever possible.

In the end, I not only walked away with fun items for myself and great gifts for others, but I left Noelie Harmon, with the satisfaction that my purchases helped others, as well as the local economy.

I was proud to support the unique boutique and even prouder when I learned that Noelie Harmon donates over 3% of its annual revenues to some of my favorite local Baton Rouge community organizations, including the Manship Theatre, Of Moving Colors, Mid City Merchants Association, and Culture Candy, among others.

So, if you live in Baton Rouge or make it down there for a visit, be sure to check out Noelie Harmon – and keep an eye out for the Rolie Noelie too –it’s the stores new socially conscious moveable store on wheels. To find out more, visit their website or email

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Showered with Generosity

Last weekend was my bridal shower, which was hosted by my Aunt Melissa and Aunt Kathleen, as well as my cousins, Becca and Laura. The whole event was just perfect – and eco-friendly too.

In accordance with the “green” theme, the invites were printed on recycled paper and featured a nature pattern. Not only were the invites, eco-friendly, but the entire party was – no paper materials or plastic utensils were used. My lovely hostesses created a great mix n’ match vibe with different style porcelain plates, silverware, and linens that gave the party a vintage vibe that suited my style and saved a lot of waste!
The food was super delish too – and almost completely vegetarian. Becca, my cousin who helped host the shower, has been a strict vegetarian for almost 20 years and she made sure that the party was virtually meat free – there were a few finger sandwiches with meat in them. Overall, the spread was full of local, delicious fruit and veggie options. Including my personal favorites, my cousin Amy’s phyllo dough wrapped asparagus and my cousin Laura’s fruit pizza. Yum!

 Rather than display cut flowers on the tables, they decorated with small succulent plants. According to Planet, succulent plants require less water than most plants and "can last forever, while cut flowers die out in a week,” making them an attractive, eco-friendly option. Some brides are even choosing to incorporate them in their "green bouquets."

At my shower, the little succulents were not only super cute decorations - they were great favors too. All the guests were encouraged to take one, two, or even three of the little plants home as favors from the shower.

I had a fantastic time at my shower. It was very relaxing and low-key. I even got some charitably inspired gifts. My best buddy and bridesmaid, Christin, got me a bottle of flipflop wine. For every bottle of flipflop wine purchased, Soles4Souls distributes a pair of shoes to someone in need.

Soles4Souls, which began as, was founded to help people who had lost everything following natural disasters. The Nashville-based charity collects shoes from individuals, as well as from the warehouses of footwear companies and then distributes the shoes to people in need. Since 2005, Soles4Souls has given away over 14 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes to people in over 127 countries!

Now, Soles4Souls has partnered with companies to be shoe drop-off locations, making it even easier for people to donate their shoes and help those in need around the world. Check out their site to find a drop-off site near you!

I can’t begin to thank my friends and family enough for all they have done to support me, and my “engagement” with a cause over the past year – from buying me charitable jewelry to running book drives to cleaning a hundred dishes to avoid wasting paper. I truly appreciate it!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sweet as Honey

So, you might have noticed my extended hiatus as of late. I admit it- I’ve been slipping. My goal has always been to post at least once- and if possible twice a week. Well, this post marks the first time I have gone TWO whole weeks without a post.

To be honest, I’ve needed a bit of a breather and some time to dig into wedding planning! With just two months left I needed to take a mini “vacay” to the Big Easy to meet with vendors. I also enjoyed my lovely bridal shower, which was hosted by my lovely aunts and cousins. More on the shower itself in another post- it was just perfect- but for now I thought I’d share some great ideas for hostess gifts.

For my very special ladies, I wanted to do something extra sweet- sweet as honey in fact. So, I bought them each a jar of honey from Hives for Lives, as well as some yummy smelling hand crèmes from the posh Love & Toast line (from the oh so hip, socially conscious boutique- Noelie Harmon- more on both Love & Toast and Noelie Harmon in next week’s post). 

 Hives for Lives was launched by two sisters, Molly and Carly, after their grandfather died of throat cancer. While still in middle school, Molly and Carly decided that they wanted to honor his memory by raising money to find a cure for cancer. Rather than set-up lemonade stands (not there is anything wrong with that), the girls created a sustainable business – one that donates 100% of its profits to finding a cure for cancer! Yes, you read that correctly - 100%! 
Molly and Carly harvest the honey from hives themselves- with help from other volunteers called Helper Bees. They then work together to spin, filter, bottle, and label it by hand. In addition to selling high-quality honey, the girls also make lip balm and candles from the beeswax.

Currently, Hives for Lives products are available in a range of places across the country- from hospital gift shops to food stores & kitchen shops. Hives for Lives homey is even available at Whole Foods and are now in all the Whole Foods Markets in nine regions. You can also place orders on their website

While Molly and Carly’s efforts to fight cancer and find a cure have helped many others, their dedication to the cause has also garnered them numerous awards and accolades. In 2007, they were recognized as the top youth volunteers in the state of Pennsylvania, and they received the middle school and high school Prudential Spirit of the Community Awards. They also were awarded the President's Volunteer Service Award from President Bush and have been honored with the American Cancer Society's Project Award, as well as the TA Barron Prize for Young Heroes. The list of awards they have received is lengthy for such young philanthropists, but it is not undeserved. To date, the girls and the Helper Bees have raise over $170,000 towards a cure. 

I also have to add that Carly and Molly and their helper bees went above and beyond for me. When my order had still not come in just days before the shower, I emailed them and the order was rushed to Louisiana and came in just in time for the shower. They were so considerate and understood how important it was to me to have the hostess gifts for my wonderful hostesses.

In the end, the past couple of weeks taught me some important things - that can be applied to weddings, blogging, and life in general. Sometimes it is just as important to stop and smell the rose-scented hand cream and the orange blossom honey, as it is to get a blog post up or finalize the guest list.
I needed some time to recharge and use the rejuvenating lotion.

I’m grateful for the R&R and glad to be back. Even better, I have a ton of awesome socially conscious wedding tips and treats saved up to share with you.  

Up next - a store with a mission and an eco-friendly shower- what more can you ask for??

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

The devil is in the details, right? As the wedding day gets closer and closer. I'm amazed by how the tasks seem to multiply. The more we get done, the more there seems to be to do! We're for the most part down to the nitty-gritty - favors, welcome bags, updating the registry and of course, finding the perfect gifts for our wedding party. 

I have a few ideas for the ladies that I am keeping up my sleeve for now, but I realized I had no idea what Andrew was getting for his guys. As always, Andrew is open to my charitable suggestions, but I was a bit lost on what to suggest. What do guys want? Flasks are an old standby- monogrammed coolers are fun too. Armed with my laptop I decided to do some research.

Well, where to start? What would guys be interested in getting…most guys like football, right? With the NFL negotiations over and the Season on, I figured this might be a good place to start. So, how about officially licensed NFL Pink Ribbon Cufflinks for the Cure? It just so happens that back in October, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, teamed up with the NFL for their Second Annual “A Crucial Catch Campaign,” which is focused on the importance of annual screenings, especially for women who are over the age of 40. The result? A collection of NFL Breast Cancer Awareness Cufflinks featuring the iconic Pink Ribbon produced with various team logos. Proceeds from each sale are donated to the American Cancer Society.
I'd prefer if this were a Saints cuff link...  they were the Super Bowl champs in 2010, but at least it supports a good cause :)
During the month of October, NFL players, coaches and referees even sported pink to help raise awareness for the campaign. The NFL Breast Cancer Awareness Cufflinks, gave the manly fans a way to feel good about sporting pink while also supporting their team. Even more important, the NFL Breast Cancer Awareness Cufflinks provided a strong message for football fans and the hundreds of thousands who were affected by breast cancer.
Currently, the NFL Breast Cancer Awareness Cufflinks are available in only five different team options; New England Patriots, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. The NFL Pink Ribbon Cufflinks are available online at or you can order them toll free at 1-877-283-3565.

Not sure NFL cuff links are the way to go? Maybe your wedding party is a bit more alternative? How about the rock star look with cufflinks and a snazzy skinny tie? You might be interested in Tie Up The CURE.

With skinny ties in almost every color of the rainbow, it’s hard to imagine not finding the perfect gift for one of the guys. The merchandise color palates are divided into pink (synonymous with breast cancer awareness) and red (along with the rainbow, representative of HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ support). They range from the very reasonably priced ($9.99) skinny ties to $60 for their popular “tube set” collection. The set includes an elegant 100% silk red tie that comes with a set of matching cuff links and a handkerchief, all of which are cleverly packaged in our TieUpTheCure decorative cylindrical metal tube (think fancy Pringles can). 

Tie Up The CURE was founded on April 14, 2010, when lung cancer ended 29 year old Candice Rahal’s life. Soon after, her fiancé, Fred Ziano, channeled his sorrow into a triumph, by launching a clothing and accessories business in Candice’s memory. In 2009, Fred and Candice had already started an e-commerce apparel business called My Fashion Source, which evolved into TieUpThe after Candiceʼs passing. 

Twenty-five percent of all sales Tie Up The Cure’s sales are directly contributed to the Lung Cancer Foundation of America (LCFA) and the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). Tie Up The Cure is the only company that donates such a large percentage of revenues to these particular non-profits in tandem. 
The Lung Cancer Foundation of Americaʼs mission is to save lives by dramatically increasing the five-year survival rates for all stages of lung cancer, the nationʼs leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women. The LCFA accomplishes this by providing the necessary and critical funding for creative and leading-edge lung cancer research programs that lead to the development of effective predictive protocols, early detection and prognostic and treatment protocols; recognize, support and encourage researchers and established research programs in the areas of lung cancer; and encourage new lung cancer researchers by way of career development awards. 

Apparently LCFA teamed up with OPI nail polish in 2009 to create "Breathe Life," a nail polish that benefits lung cancer research.
 Founded in 1985, amfAR is dedicated to ending the global AIDS epidemic. amfAR plays a catalytic role in accelerating the pace of HIV/AIDS eradication. Research funded by amfAR has increased understanding of HIV and helped lay the groundwork for major advances in the study and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Since 1985, amfAR has invested more than $307 million in its mission and than 2,000 scientific teams worldwide.

These great causes really got me excited to explore and find even more gifts for groomsmen and bridesmaids gifts that give back. Do you all have any suggestions or ideas?