Dear Brian and Hope,
Right now you are little... 5 and 4 months. But one day, you will be grown ups and I hope it will be then that you will find this letter. I want to tell you a little story about your big brother, believing in yourselves, the power of community... and how nothing can stop you from making something happen if you put your passion underneath it.
Mommy had a little idea to try to raise a lot of money to build a playground at the hospital where your big brother died. They have a lovely playground, but little kids (and big kids!) who have disabilities (visible and invisible!) like Gavin did can't really play on it safely. So I decided to have what you called a "playground party," Brian. It started off as just a thought - and quickly snowballed into something bigger.
I worked very hard for 62 days. I had no idea what I was doing - and that's no joke. I had never been to a fundraiser in my life. But I'm telling you, that is where your brother comes in. There is no other way to explain how I was able to do what I did. Looking back on these 62 days, I feel like a path was just laid in front of me. Connections fell into my lap... people said yes... ideas came to my head... friends gave me great referrals... I could go on and on. It was hard work, guys, don't misunderstand. But it all came together piece by piece until all of a sudden it was here. The big day.
One of the yes's I got - a big one - was from Bill Marchese from the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center. He practically GAVE me the space to hold the event. He said we could use Hall E - which is right next door to Bounce U... a place you love, Brian!
The room began as a boring warehouse. They added 40 tables...
Aunt Meg flew down from New Hampshire before her family just to help me the day before - isn't that amazing? I hope the two of you are just as supportive with each other as you grow up into adulthood. Aunt Meg was such a huge help. Especially because just the day before you and I were so sick with a stomach virus, Brian!!
Aunt Meg and I got to the Hall on Friday, the day before the event, to set up. Soon the tables had tablecloths... and then flowers... and then numbers!
Soon the room looked like this! Your brother's photo was front and center right in front of the stage. I wanted everyone to remember that even though we were there to raise money for a playground... that it was Gavin who inspired the very idea. And, I wanted everyone to remember that we were also there to celebrate his life. The event was just 9 days before the one year anniversary of his death.
The Expo center gave me black drapes and tables to dress up the warehouse.
They even rolled in a red carpet, too! That was fitting. The room was going to be filled with 400 VIPs! Once I added the beautiful raffle baskets people generously donated, the event sponsor signs and balloons, the place was looking really festive!
Another one of your brother's photos was ready to greet everyone as they walked in the door the day of the event. With blue balloons, of course.
Mommy was lucky enough to be sponsored by businesses and I had all of their literature in nice bags at everyone's seat.
Gavin's memorial card was in every centerpiece.
Along the way in my planning, I was contacted by the founder of the Malvern School. She was a generous event sponsor - and she also offered me volunteers! Twelve, actually! I didn't know how much I needed volunteers until the event began... when I quickly realized that there was no way I could have pulled it off so smoothly without them. They all wore matching tie-dyed shirts and one was nicer than the next. Here they are pre-ripping raffle tickets before everyone got there...
My cousin Jennifer and her husband, Bill, have an entertainment business, McM Entertainment and they provided the entertainment and a great trivia game for the evening!
I used GiveSmart for my silent auction and they sent four people to work the event. Here is one of the registration tables. Guests would check in with one of the girls from the Malvern School and then the GiveSmart folks would make sure they were registered properly for the silent auction!
Soon people started arriving and I was so happy to see familiar faces like Miss Sara and Miss Maggie and her husband, Drew. Everyone was so excited to see both of you!
Brian, you were so excited that your cousins were there. You stayed by David's side nearly all night long!
Guests kept checking in until soon the room was filled with friendly faces. Some people came in that were friends that we already knew.
Some people came in that we only knew online but fast became friends.
And some were total strangers that we met that night. But something magical happened that evening. It felt like everyone left as friends.
I had to do seating arrangements (with a lot of help from Aunt Meg and Aunt Bean who stayed up with me very late the night before the event!). Many of the tables were all people I didn't know so the seating was pretty random. After the event, I got emails and comments from so many people telling me that they were sitting with the perfect people. Connections were made. Job offers. People got help for their special needs children. It was like someone had a hand in the seating arrangements to make sure needs were met. It was unbelievable.
Mommy got up on stage before the fun began to give a little speech. I was a nervous wreck. You might be too one day. I wish I had a great trick for you to be less nervous. I don't.
Hopefully you have a great supporter who will tell you how great you are even if you mess up. Mine was holding you, Hope, in the back of the room.
Always remember how important it is to support the person you love a lot. Especially when they are really scared to do something.
While I was up there on stage, I announced a social experiment. Using GiveSmart's mobile technology, I had them send a text out to all of my registered guests. It asked them to give $5.00 on their phones at exactly 7:30. We had a tote board that showed the donations in real time. In just a few hours it surpassed my goal of $10,000! Here is what it looked like two days later (when people were still giving!)
I hope you always remember that no matter what your circumstance - there is always something to give. A couple thousand people gave just $5.00 and look what happened! And you know what? Seeing this made so many people happy. Giving feels good. And when you give - whether it's money or time or love or positive energy... you get it back. Sometimes tenfold. Please remember that. Don't be scroogy with anything in your life. Life is too short to be scroogy.
Once the trivia started, strangers banded together and quickly bonded.
Teams were formed and people became competitive!! Great team names were formed like: The Einsteins... For Gavin... Hashtag... and, my favorite, "Spez Margaret."
It was so much fun to watch everyone come together and get so into this part of the evening...
Daddy and I walked around and tried really hard to greet everyone. We were drowning in a sea of names and faces - but we did our best! I still can't believe how many people showed up - and if you're reading this when I'm 80, I will still feel the same way. It was just a remarkable night. Daddy and I also had the Malvern School volunteers pull the winners of the raffle baskets in the back and then we hand delivered them to all the winners. That was fun!
As the night went on, things got a little
Daddy and I had Miss Katja standing by at home - ready to head to our house to meet both of you. We were sure that we'd at least send you home, Brian, as it was such a late night! But both of you lasted until the very end. Hope, you had no shortage of people to hold you... and admire you!
And Brian, you were just having too much fun with the big kids. We kept asking you if you wanted to leave (you usually would! You are a strict 7pm bedtime kind of guy!) but you said no!
Near the end of the night, it was time to draw the 50/50. Aunt Bean and I headed to the front and she held the bucket FILLED with tickets and I pulled the winner. It was down to your cousin David (!!!) and our neighbor (and your friend Danny's Mom, Brian!) Sonia!
It was Sonia that won! She won $1,315!! We greeted her at our door the very next morning and she handed it right back to us for the playground. People are so kind. Always remember to be kind, ok?
I got back up on stage because I just love to talk to 400 people (not) and fumbled my way through a thank you. And then I did my best Vanna White impression and showed the total from the "Give 5 for Gavin" experiment.
And finally, the winners of the trivia game were announced! You can tell it's a good night when you don't see people leaving early. Hardly anyone left early! The night ended close to 11pm.
So, I guess you're wondering how much money was raised after all of that, huh? Well, I don't have the exact - down to the dollar - number. But I am happy to tell you both that nearly $60,000 was raised. Maybe a little more.
Yes. That was $60,000.
That counts direct donations to the hospital, ticket sales, raffles, 50/50, silent auction items and trips and "Give 5 for Gavin" money.
Brian - Hope - don't ever think that you can't do something by yourself... or that anything is too big to handle alone. If you feel that way, remember this story. Set your mind to something - believe it can happen - and then make it work. You'll find everything you need along the way.
So many wonderful blessings came to be that I KNOW where orchestrated from above. Not just how everything seemed to just fall into place for me along the way... or how the seating arrangements affected people... or how the right people seemed to win the right things for the right reasons.
Lots and lots of strangers from all walks of life and all different areas all walked into a warehouse in Oaks, PA... and they all came together for one common goal. To help raise money for a playground where all kids can play. But I really believe that people left that warehouse changed. Inspired. Your big brother's life has that affect on people. And he only lived until he was 5 1/2. So always remember that you, too, can inspire and affect change in people. It doesn't matter how old you are... you will always have that power. Use it wisely... and always in love.
There was an energy in that room that night that was undeniable. All I felt all night was love.
Mommy... who will love you forever.
Thank you to Lauren Naldzin from Bella Baby Photography for the wonderful photos! If you were there and YOU have photos, please add them to my share site on Shutterfly so we all can see them!! You can see the rest of Lauren's photos there!