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Opening Your Doors to Fun and Fundraising

fundraiser11Bad loans, bailouts, foreclosures, layoffs… reports of the grim state of our economy are front and center these days, and everyone is paying attention. While it’s distressing and uncertain, the upside is that in many ways, living leaner is an exercise in creative thinking. Instead of producing and consuming with no thought to the future, it is rapidly becoming evident that perhaps we should have been honing the frugal habits and skills of our Depression-era parents and grandparents all along.

If things are leaner at home, then consider the fates of the philanthropic foundations, organizations, clubs and community groups that abound in Lynchburg. Though they rely on outside funding to accomplish their goals, uncertain times don’t have to mean uncertain futures for these do-good groups. Our beloved town boasts creative, caring folks who won’t let a tighter belt diminish the efforts of these organizations. In fact, one local woman recently helped raise thousands of dollars for a well-known foundation simply by opening the doors of her beautiful home.

Give for the Garden
One of the prettiest, most peaceful spots in Lynchburg is the Awareness Garden, opened in 2003, and designed and created by beloved resident Lalla Sydnor. When she was diagnosed with cancer in 2000, Lalla chose to live her life with cancer as normally and cheerfully as possible, rather than allow the disease to overshadow her days. She put much of her energy into the ambitious endeavor of creating a special garden where cancer patients could come to reflect, meditate, and find peace amid the worry and chaos of treatments. The garden, located at the Ed Page entrance to the James River Heritage Trail (also known as the Blackwater Creek Trail), continues to be a haven for cancer patients and their loved ones. Lalla passed away in 2003, but not before seeing her beautiful dream become a reality that continues to inspire all who visit.

Since its inception, the Awareness Garden Foundation has sought creative avenues for generating support, including a well-attended annual golf tournament at Boonsboro Country Club. This year, however—the five-year mark—Awareness Garden Foundation Board Member Laura Hamilton says, “It was time to step it up.” Indeed, this milestone called for a special celebration. When the Awareness Garden Foundation’s Board of Directors began planning this event, the current economic climate was at the forefront of discussions. While the desire to give Awareness Garden supporters an elegant night out was a priority, the world events of the last year had changed things, and the board had its work cut out for it.

Laura Hamilton glows as she describes the outpouring of support in the face of economic uncertainty. “Even though everyone is being careful about how they spend money, we immediately had offers of artwork and custom-made pieces of furniture coming in for the silent auction, and great vacation homes for the live auction,” she explains. Local catering company Meriwether-Godsey and Skyline Tents became involved by offering their goods at significantly discounted rates. When it came time to find a venue for what promised to be a successful event, the high prices of commercial venue options were discouraging, and the momentum that had been building sputtered to a standstill.

In the true spirit of generosity, however, came a proposal from Anne Newcomb, mother of Awareness Garden Foundation Board Member Letcher Newcomb. Anne offered the use of her lovely, rambling home known as Elk Creek Farm as the site of the event. Not only would there be no charge, but the venue was beautiful to boot.

Nestled near the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in bucolic Bedford County is Elk Creek Farm. The stone-walled entryway spills into a tree-lined paved driveway, which leads the way past the five-stall barn, the outbuildings and up to the main house. Built in 1985 by renowned contractor Buzzy Coleman, Elk Creek operates as a “gentleman’s farm.” The 25 Black Angus cattle are part of the property’s pastoral charm, dotting the rolling hills and fence-line.

Solid mahogany doors, faux-finished walls, a massive commercial-grade stove, Persian rugs, and exquisite moldings are just some of the details that add to the obvious craftsmanship of the house. But what separates the house at Elk Creek Farm from so many others is its magnificent space; with soaring 30-foot ceilings, a stone fireplace at the home’s center which is accessible from three different angles, and effortless flow, it is a superlative choice to host an event of this type.

And so, on a rainy, chilly late-February evening, a throng of eager supporters were on hand to eat, drink, bid on the auction items, and enjoy the sounds of the ever-appealing Paddy Dougherty Quartet. Event-goers moved comfortably from the foyer to the kitchen (which was headquarters to the martini bar and carving station) to the sunken dining room and into the library where donated artwork adorned the tables. From the abundant floral arrangements and decorations provided by Laura Rosser, Sarah Elizabeth Perrow Sterne and their committees, to the food catered by Meriwether-Godsey, the outpouring of support by so many people was evident.

The final proceeds far exceeded the board’s expectations, heralding the Awareness Garden’s Five-Year Celebration as a hugely successful fundraising effort. The money raised will stay local, with a portion of the proceeds to go toward the enhancement of the garden itself, a portion to educational programs to raise cancer awareness, and a portion to a scholarship fund.

While your own “at-home fundraising” efforts certainly don’t have to be as lofty at these, consider opening your heart and your home to the possibilities. Rather than the it’s-been-done-before feeling of a public restaurant, club or hall, the average person may feel more comfortable and more tied to the event if it is held in someone’s home. When the event is personal, the cause becomes more personal. And most people will feel better giving when they know the money will go directly to those in need. All it takes is a little effort to educate your guests, provide them with something good to eat and drink, place some beautiful cut flowers here and there, and provide a little entertainment like a DJ or musician. These are the makings of great parties for great causes.

There are certain facts of life that seem impossible for us as individuals to alter; a bad economy and cancer are two unyielding, nasty pieces of work. Cliché as it may sound, working together and combining the resources of many are the most effective tools we have. For all of these generous folks to come together when asked, e.g. to donate or to shop to provide cancer support, and to help undertake such an ambitious fundraising task, is a tribute to the innate goodness of people. And that’s something that endures despite the headlines.


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