I cried tonight driving home from being utterly grateful. Feel-good tears are the best kind. My heart is filled with hope and I am humbly reminded that goodness and kindness exists. Fittingly, the event I plan every year is called Forget-Me-Not: Fields of Hope. For those who don’t know, I work for a nonprofit called Acknowledge Alliance. We serve many schools in the Bay Area through a variety of services that focus on the social emotional wellness of teachers and students. Forget-Me-Not is our biggest event of the year where we raise funds to support our programs. $40,000 was the set goal.
As someone who’s been planning these kind of events for years now, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and be flexible. Sure, this could mean: the printer not working during crunch hours, the super last-minute guest who throws off the entire table seating chart, the laptop that won’t project properly, the video camera that disrupts the speeches with nonstop beeping, etc. I spend about 6 months planning these events down to every little detail with the best of my ability…and still, there is always something that ends up happening out of my control.
This morning, I woke up and thought my main curveball would be the rain AGAIN. The weather report showed there was a 40% chance. A huge portion of our event is outdoors with tables of silent auction items on display for sale. Last year, I panicked when rain poured all over San Jose on the event day. Luckily, the rain clouds never made it to our venue. I tried holding on to the same positive thoughts and threw some tarps in my car. The event must go in regardless. Two hours later, that 40% chance became only 15%. By the time guests came, the sun was in full radiance!
The big unseen AHH@!#%-moment happened though when I got an email at 2:45pm. Our event photographer/volunteer was admitted into the hospital and couldn’t make it. I called another guy who was interested in volunteering, but he was preoccupied already. It wasn’t the end of the world, but good photos are important to capture the essence of this special day. I brainstormed which option to take while setting up the displays. I stopped what I was doing when I randomly heard a man tell our venue coordinator, “Oh, I’m here to scope out the park for a shoot I’m doing on Saturday.” What, a photographer popped out of nowhere and happened to walk by!? I went up to him and asked if he could shoot our event.
At first, he offered me a price. When I mentioned that we were looking for a volunteer, he didn’t seem so sure. He asked me what our organization does. He shared that his wife is a preschool teacher. Then he said, “I should…and yes, I will do this event because our meeting was so serendipitous.” This happened at 3:30pm. At 5pm, he showed up with all his professional gear, including multiple flash equipment. WOW!!! His wife came in support too – I had the pleasure of speaking with her and learning about her passion with youth and families as well. I couldn’t stop saying thank you. By 11pm, he already had all the pictures emailed to me and they were flawless without editing. I’m still mind-blown that this happened.
The evening was filled with giving spirits. We surpassed our fundraising goal!! But more than that, 100 people left the room tonight with touched hearts and a better understanding of our organization’s mission. One of the awards we presented tonight was to a high school student who shared that he felt like an eagle with a broken wing. A mistake he made in 7th grade led to legal trouble and many struggles. Our counseling services helped him build resilience and turn his life around. Relationships and connection matter. A caring adult finally listened to him, he felt safe and trusted, he was not labeled or judged as a bad person, and someone genuinely believed in him. I can only imagine how proud his parents must be – he thanked them in Spanish in the most heartfelt way possible.
After working so hard to bring this event to life, the biggest reward is to literally see and feel the “WHY.” I am reminded about the grand purpose behind my “job.” I do and love what I do because ultimately, I am contributing to a greater cause much larger than myself. I believe that when you put your whole heart into what you’re doing, things will fall into place, one way or another. I’m lucky that I get to use creativity and the-things-I-already-enjoy-doing (planning, writing, designing, etc) as a vehicle to make things happen.
I also feel incredibly blessed to be surrounded by people with kind souls and talent. Last year, my sister and her boyfriend, Phil came to volunteer at our event. After seeing and experiencing the crazy process I go through with multiple time-consuming excel sheets to track donations, my sister asked, “Why didn’t you ask Phil to build an app?” Genius right? This year, Phil built a program for me that made recording and processing payments easy. It simplified the entire process and allowed me to actually relax and enjoy the event instead of scrambling to CTRL+F CTRL+F CTRL+F the whole night. They couldn’t attend this year because they’re off traveling the world.
Instead, my other sister and brother from the Ly side, Katherine and Kevin, came to help me. The event could not have gone as smoothly without their presence. Knowing that they got everything under control and organized took a tremendous amount of pressure off me. They even took the time from their long work days to visit my office to learn what they needed to do prior to the event. Of course, they took me out for a cocktail and beer happy hour break in between too! I’m grateful for them. Seriously, they kept me calm.
My friend Kim is also one-of-a-kind, perhaps the most thoughtful person I’ve ever met. She knew how stressed I was and was in need of volunteers. Without me asking, she offered to take a day off work to help me. That was an amazing gesture of support. Since I’ve been back in San Jose these past few weeks, she’s been at my house almost everyday, to the point where I feel like she’s my sister and part of the family too. (David feels differently…”Kim’s there again? Jeez, why don’t you just marry her?!) Although it turned out that she couldn’t make it to the event, she spent an afternoon helping me wrap boxes for the centerpieces. While her pick-me-up snack deliveries made me smile (and fat), I appreciate the fact that she’s always there to listen to my jibberish.
It goes without saying that my fiancé is the best too. We are currently in a long distance relationship for 7 weeks because of my work in San Jose and my upcoming trip to Asia. I was sad thinking that I would only see him once during this duration. To my complete surprise, he showed up at my door with flowers one night! I couldn’t stop giggling. Somehow, his California-based company needed him in San Jose too, so he flew back for a day the first week, two days last week, and now I get to see him tonight too for the weekend!
Many things that happened throughout this event process got me saying repeatedly, “What are the chances?!” It’s like I have a fairy godmother sprinkling glittery pixie dust all over me. I’m not sure how else to explain it. I never once asked, wished or expected for these occurrences to happen, but they magically did for the greater good. I am beyond overwhelmed with love and gratitude – school communities will be a better place for teachers and students thanks to all these layers of generosity. Life is meaningful.