by Melissa Balmer f You've bEen feeling overwhelmed by bad nEVIS of late - th e fires, the environment, th e econ omy, the war in a far off land - let the tale of the Five Prog'ressives be a little "inspiration" to hel p brighten your holiday season. This is a story of five pretty ordinary Long Beach iocals who came up with a very simple idea that's having extraordinarily positive results in our local community. Three years ago (two nights after the 2004 elections), girlfriends Donna Hilbert, Tere Sievers and Lenore Brown were having dinner and decided they wanted to do something more than just complain about the election results. They wanted to do something positive, something local, something to give back rather than continuing to grumble about how bad things were getting. Inspired by an event Donna had attended (which was hostecj by her friend's husband and wife Eric de Valpine and Cari I arshall) the three M ladies came up with the idea of hosting a dinner party fundraiser for just thirty-five dollars - the average price of a dinner out with a glass of wine - so that participating would be affordable for a broad spectrum of people. To keep expenses low, the dinner would be hosted at someone's home and the money raised would go to a local charity in need. Not too much later the three friends pooled their contacts, sent out the invites, and hosted the first dinner party with a goal of raising $1,000 - instead they raised $3,000. The local charity and a small amount of time invested yields a big get feedback from children or their parents about was thrilled, and everyone had a wonderful time. feeling of warmth in return. the impact our dinners have had on their lives, Eric and Cari, the couple whose own event had At each of our dinners (we've held over 15 to it's so rewarding and humbling - it's also a strong inspired the dinner party idea, enjoyed it so date), I am always surprised by the many people reminder that if we would all just do our part, we much they signed on to help organize future commenting 'on how wonderful [the dinners are]. could change the world! fundraising dinner parties. The group Progressive Of course, these comments are appreciated and . Dinner Party (PDP) was born and the five friends humbling, but they do not compare to the joy DONNA: The PDP has given me the opportunity to were soon dubbed "The Five Progressives." I experience from being a part of this group. put my time and money where my mouth is. In a Every other month the PDP hosts a dinner The PDP is the first time I have been a part of world that begs for positive action, it is satisfying party at the house of a friend, or someone who's a philanthropic group; I get so much more back to identify a need and go to work to fulfill that attended a party and decided they want to help than what I contribute. need. I feel less overwhelmed when I am doing out. The events are open to the public and something besides complaining. The PDP was have grown mostly by word of mouth, though ERIC: Beyond new friendships and the satisfaction born out of our desire to make a statement about a feature in the January 2006 issue of 0, The of making a difference, the great benefit to me what we value in our city and in our society. We Oprah Magazine didn't hurt. This last September from participating in the PDP is learning about want to live in a city, and a world, that looks after the PDP hit a new record and raised $5,000 for our community and recognizing how easy it is to its children and nurtures its families, not just the local non-profit Operation Jump Start. be a positive participant. Every event, I am lucky with homilies but with action. And, I have to say Recently, I -had the pleasure of talking to the enough to be reminded that our community is that I also enjoy the party itself. We really have Five Progressives about how they organize their our responsibility, mine and yours, and together fun. It is great to meet people who are interested dinners, choose the charities to support, and we are stronger. in making our community a better place. All this what impact the Progressive Dinner Party has over a glass of wine. What could be better? had on their own individual lives. CARl: For me, it's knowing that we're now three years into this endeavor and we have TERE: Our efforts make a difference immediately What has been the most rewarding aspect of built something that is unique and effective. We to each organization that we sponsor. I think being involved with the Five Progressives? created this from just a glimmer of a concept.' we also make a difference by raising awareness It's still a work in progress, which is part of the of community issues and giving everyone LENORE: Two words come to mind: small and fun, but I'm amazed at what an immense impact who attends our dinners an opportunity to be big. A small effort can make a big difference. A our group has made in not only raising funds for generous. It is rewarding to be part of something small amount of money can have a big impact. A some incredibly worthy programs in Long Beach, so simple and so positive. small group (the Five Progressives) can create a but also raising the awareness of people in the big group (our dinners are up to eighty people!) community about the issues we face. When we Can you share with us how the PDP is November/December, 2007 (}oas~cJ I 13 Progressive Dinner Party on May 20/ 2007/ where they raised more than $3/300 for scholarships for children from low-income Long Beach families to attend a summer music program through Excelsus (www.excelsus. org) . Right: Progressive Dinner Party on March 18/ 2007/ where they raised more than $3/200 for the Downtown Associated Youth Service Committee Summer Day Camp. (photos provided by Progressive Dinner Party) organized and how this makes it much and takes pictures at the dinner and easier for five busy people to host events posts them on our website following and raise funds for various non-profits? You each event. Tere coordinates the food have information on your website to help with our hosts and all of the generous others organize in a similar fashion as well, individuals and restaurants that donate don't you? delicious meals and assists them in creating a beautiful display, LENORE: I maintain the inventory of all the Of course, we all assist at each dinner plates, utensils, etc. and make any telephone setting up chairs and tables, pouring calls to guests who have questions about the wine and doing whatever else has to dinner or what we do. Donna checks our email be done. But the most important thing daily and responds to all RSVPs and edits all we do Is have fun! After each dinner our communications. Eric speaks with each of we always discuss how "this was one of our organizations' directors briefing t hem on our best dinners" and usually comment what to address during their fi ve m inute t alk at how easy it is t o do and how rewarded we feel. has "no-strings" attached. Can you tell us the dinner and. acts as the emcee at all of our You can visit our website and click on "How To" to why this is so important to the different dinners. Cari is our personal webmaster and get m9re specific information about how to start org anizat ions you raise money for with your official photographer. She updates and maintains a Progressive Dinner Party. events? our website (www.progressived innerparty.org), sends out our email invitations and reminders The money the Five Progressives raises ERIC: Quite often, funding from city, state or 14 I eOQS~Q~ 'November/December, 2007 federal programs, or philanthropic groups, is children and/or families. We are totally focused great cause. We have kept the price of our dinners earmarked for a specific use to t he exclusion of on helping children in Long Beach, whether we're .Iow, to better address our third goal, wh ich is to other needs within an organization. Earmarks addressing the issue of homelessness, poverty, get young people into the habit of giving . There are not necessarily bad and can · definitely education, abuse, or any of the other challenges is a large and generous crowd out there who make sense, but if an organization's funds are . facing our community. There are so many stellar wants to give but can't afford a $200 ticket and a 98% earmarked towards 50% of the mission, organizations out there that offer a helping hand new dress or tux to attend a charitable event. We the leadership is obviously in a very tough to Long Beach families, and we want to not ask for a minimum of $35 for a dinner with wine, spot to close that gap that can impact staffing, only raise funds for them, but also awareness. which we think is quite a bargain. Of course we infrastructure, and the option of improvements When one of our attendees volunteers for an are happy to have bigger checks and we always . versus operating at status quo. organization they discovered through our dinner, have a few contributions of $100 or more. Our "Discretionary funds" are wonderful words for that's as important as the funds we raised. That's goal for our first dinner in 2004 was $1,000. We an organization's leadership. The funds from the building a lasting relationship that will hopefully raised $3,000 and we were thrilled. We are now PDP are for discretionary use because we try to spread among that person's peers. approaching $5,000 per dinner. offer simple and direct support. Sometimes I We have fully scheduled our dinners for 2008, think we individualize the issues, "that person and have started to plan into 2009 . We are What events do you have coming up for needs (food, shelter, education, etc.)" but if one always open to hearing about new organizations. November and January? How can readers person has such a need then our community We're amazed when we hear about yet another who are interested in learning more do so? is in need of the service, thus all the amazing worthy group that could use our help. organizations with amazing people trying to ease TERE: Our November 18 dinner will benefit Centro and serve some overwhelming issues. They need Do you have a goal amount of money you'd Shalom, a social service agency providing support the support, and we believe their leadership has like to raise with each event, and have you services for new immigrants and people who are a better idea than anyone of where they need to been able to meet those goals? homeless, as well as the local multicultural and allocate the limited funds we provide. multi'ethnic community, The Centro, operating DONNA: Of course we want to raise as much since 1977, serves approximately 45 individuals How do you choose the organizations money as we can for our recipient organizations, and families a day and relies completely on you'd like to help raise money for? Do you but we have two other equally important goals. volunteers and donations. Our dinners are held . already have everyone chosen for 2008, We want to introduce our diners to groups they bi-monthly and our January 2008 dinner will or are you still open to hearing from new might not know about, but might have an interest benefit the New City School. organizations? in. One of the most satisfying results has been watching people become, personally involved on CSM CARl: We have two criteria when choosing an ongoing basis with groups they've discovered organizations: it must be based in Long Beach, and through the PDP - joining boards, becoming For more information on The Progressive Dinner that benefits mentors, of lending t heir particular expertise to a Party, visit www.DrooressivedinnerDartv.oro.
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