19 Years Later -
So many of you ask how and why I do charity benefits and how it all started. So here you go -- the Reader’s Digest version. My first reaction to the question “Why do you do charity?” is "Why doesn't everyone?" For as long as I can remember I have fought for the underdog and injustice just drives me crazy.
So once I decided to take a break from working (that's another story, a long one, since I've worked since I was old enough to qualify), I put all of my sales, management and marketing skills to work for charity. It started out approximately 19 years ago, when I went to a little fundraiser for at-risk kids at an art gallery. Once I saw where the money was needed and how we could keep kids out of jail and in school, I started raising money from my home. We had our first annual charity gala in my backyard for about 450 people. I loved doing it at my house because we had no expenses and all the funds could go directly to the kids at the school we were supporting. We (meaning "I") set up an office (the one I kicked Roy out of) out of my house and worked from home. Once we outgrew my backyard for the annual event, and after one year of our annual events where it rained (deluged) and we had to put close to 500 guests plus all the food and auction items inside our home a few hours before show time (I stored all the furniture in a semi-truck behind the house), I went to the Coral Gables Country Club. We later outgrew that, and started going to larger venues and hotels. My concept was simple. No staff (well, Roy has an incredible staff and I sort of tapped into them along the way) - we are an all-volunteer army; no overhead since I worked from home (well, I did a lot of mailings and needed stamps, and I bought a lot of wine and food and entertained along the way, thank you Roy for funding that!). And if we had any expenses (the one I just could never get rid of was "postage"; I just couldn't get the Post Office to underwrite the invitations), I would find sponsors, sometimes - many times - Roy would unknowingly sponsor whatever was needed. Then somewhere along the way, probably about 8-10 years ago after RJ was born, the charity had grown and the endless lists of things to do became so overwhelming and the "volunteers" were totally worn out, so I decided I either had to quit all together or hire someone to help. I then had a baby to take care of and I needed charity help. So I hired Jason who has been with me ever since. To subsidize his modest salary from the charity, I paid him personally (and still do) for a few things he did for me - and we've been a team ever since. I even produced a film, along the way with the generosity of filmmaker Mark Clark, showcasing the school, the boys and the various ways we helped keep kids out of jail and in school. Jason, a few donors and myself Roy and Rj headed to Cannes to show it at the market in the Cannes Film Festival (the trip, partially sponsored once again by Roy, but we had fun!) and turned the film experience into a fundraiser for the charity. We sold tickets to Cannes and we showed it here locally too at the Gusman Theater a couple of times and ticket sales were great.
The school we were supporting all those years, eventually lost its funding from the state, so we then started to support other organizations like Educate Tomorrow, I Have a Dream Foundation, The Juvenile Services Justice Division of the State -- charities that had our same mission. Eventually (a couple or so years back) we started our own foundation with a pledge from one of our donors for a million dollars to be donated over time, and also started raising funds for the Consequences Charity. That allowed us to put together and fund a video and curriculum, showing kids the "consequences" of their actions and, with the help of the Governor’s office, it is showed in several state funded locations throughout the state to many first-time offenders who can then be re-directed and given a second chance. Our goal is to have every teenage first time offender in Florida and then nationally see this video and have them "scared straight". The video was underwritten by one of our donors, Engin Yesil, who came up with the "consequences" concept and theme that has been well received by the state. We have also done holiday gift drives and put together after school programs including a summer camp with Miami Light Project. We have coordinated various store or gallery events for a percentage of the proceeds or had smaller events throughout the year in addition to the annual gala. And like I didn’t have enough to do, for 3 years I also helped raise scholarship money for RJs school in addition to our work with at-risk kids. We have recently added Breakthrough Miami to the organizations we support directly or indirectly.
The next fundraiser we will have will be confirmed once we can confirm the talent. That's by far the hardest part of my job. Over the years we have had some of the greatest entertainers in the world such as: Queen Latifah, Tony Bennett, Deborah Cox, Pitbull, Natalie Cole, Pharrell Williams, Deborah Cox, Paulina Rubio, Rick Ross, Alto Reed, Lil Wayne, Patti LaBelle, Craig David, Maria Conchita Alonso, Jencarlos Canela, Heather McDonald, Scott Weiland, Tommy Davidson, Vince Neil, Jon Secada, Adam Gaynor (Matchbox 20 fame) and Barry Gibb (I still can't believe Barry Gibb did a concert inside our home), most of whom have donated their time, or we made a donation to their charity or we were able to get sponsorship money to cover whatever we had to spend.
The second hardest part of my job - all the paybacks! Imagine if 600-850 guests a year come to my gala - how many invitations a year do you think I get? And how many charity events I need to support? So Roy once again, gets to donate (and have fun). Just think of all of that good karma he's racking up! Good for the soul.
Getting everything donated is the third hardest part of my job. It’s easy to pick up the phone and order microphones or flowers or desserts – it’s not so easy to beg and plead for everything we need to logistically support an event like ours. Just getting an extra 20 people to volunteer the night of the event is a job in itself! We've been very blessed. We've gotten invitations printed, decor donated, talent donated, food donated, liquor donated, hotel rooms for talent donated, tablecloths, chairs, and candles donated -- the list is endless throughout the years. I remember one year when we couldn't get flowers donated, so the day of the event my gardener climbed trees and cut off palm fronds to put on the tables with a single 39-cent candle from Target and two green apples. The guests were great about it and appreciated that we saved on flower money and put it into the kids’ future instead. Even with all the begging and pleading the event has substantial costs which is covered primarily from sponsorships and some of the donations. So it’s been quite the journey. I can't say I've loved every minute of it. In fact, most every year I say, "this is my last year -- I just can't do it again," and then we do. Why? Because "if not us, who," and "if not now, when" to quote one of our favorite leaders.
Year after year it gets bigger and better -- and the expectations get higher and higher. (And the pressure more intense). We have recently upgraded our office to a space downtown (My housekeeper is extremely excited about that, and the grocery bill has gone down a lot!). And at least my ballroom is no longer the storage unit for 200 plus auction items 3 months out of the year and storage for what didn't sell that we will recycle the following years. And we don't have a handful of people in and out of the house all day, everyday, year round. And thanks, Roy! The charity does not pay rent in our new office space, just some maintenance, the phones and of course we now have general and administrative expenses and one full-time Executive Director, Jason Clarke. And all of these years we've had the luxury of being represented (pro-bono) by Black, Srebnick, Kornspan and Stumpf - just how lucky can a girl get?
So if any of you feel any inspiration at all after reading my charity journey, please consider donating your time or resources to this cause. We need your help, so many which have so little need your help, your karma will appreciate your help and it’s good for the soul. My promise to you -- you will get more than you give out of your participation.
Spread the love and keep the peace -- and be an advocate for second chances.
To volunteer you can call us at 305-443-8980. Or look on our website, www.theblacksannualgala.com for the contact / volunteer section.
And visit my website www.theworldofleablack.com, eventually I'm going to do a "how to" blog on charities. Or check out my YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/user/leablackofficial?feature=watch, I may soon be shaming people into opening up their wallets for a good cause.
All my best,
The Consequences Foundation
With the success of The Blacks’ Annual Gala, Lea determined an expansion was necessary to be able to offer direct services and programs for at-risk youth. With that in mind, she launched a collaboration that would involve power players in the community whose background in business, marketing, the law, civil rights, the arts and program development was unparalleled. This group helped form the basis of what the Foundation is evolving into, working with the Juvenile Services Department to offer services and programs that are unparalleled.
The Blacks Annual Gala is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to fundraising for at-risk youth.
Lea Black, Founder
with Lea Black