This post is by Phillip Hain, the West Region Director for Autism Speaks.
On December 1, the Los Angeles Chapter held the inaugural Blue Tie Blue Jean Ball. In looking back at what made the event so amazing, I attribute it to four key elements: vision, focus, determination, and teamwork.
The first was having a vision. In a city the size of Los Angeles, there is an abundance of fundraising dinners that do very well, but often people feel obligated to attend rather than having a true sense of wanting to be there. Years ago while volunteering for Cure Autism Now before it merged with Autism Speaks, I remember helping get ready for an art auction when a gentleman walked into the hotel and wanted to know where to go for an event he was attending with his wife which was taking place that night. I asked what it was for and he said, “I’m not sure. Something to do with kids.” Yes, it was nice to hear he was there to support us, but I also realized that he would not remember the organization the next day.
That took us to the element of determination. Our committee was looking for an event which people wanted to attend because it was fun—and they would look forward to being there again. After settling on a theme of music, we came up with the Blue Tie Blue Jean Ball name because it reflected the ideas of enjoyable, unpretentious, memorable and genuine. We also realized those are the adjectives often used to describe our children affected by autism, making the synergy and concept even more significant.
Because we were working on a shortened timeline, we had to operate as a team. The committee was just the right size to have enough people with contacts, but not too cumbersome to become unwieldy. We chose sub-chairs to handle the various major components. There was no task—big or small—that anyone would not take on. Whether it was getting things donated, pitching sponsors, creating a Facebook page, or stuffing envelopes, everyone pitched in where they could contribute. The group stayed on course and worked collaboratively. Bouncing ideas at a committee meeting where someone suggested it would be great if we could get a jean company as a sponsor resulted in another person saying, “We have a contact at Guess whom we can call.” The result was having the Guess Foundation as the presenting sponsor—for a first year event.
Needless to say we had to focus. One member had strong contacts in the music industry who worked on getting a major name to headline the show. Others started getting cool auction items to fit the music theme. We ended up with really interesting things, such as a bra signed by Fergie, an autographed guitar from Eddie Van Halen, passes to Lollapalooza, and tickets to an Elton John concert in Las Vegas plus an acrylic piece of his piano.
So it wasn’t an accident that over 700 people packed the House of Blues on the world famous Sunset Strip to hear the incomparable, beloved and ever gracious Sarah McLachlan sing some of her biggest hits. She was introduced by autism mom and Grammy Award-winning singer Toni Braxton. The show was hosted by comedian Sinbad, who also handled the live auction with humor and zip. Other music performers were “American Idol” contestant Brooke White, Lucy Schwartz and Diane Birch. Attendees included Autism Speaks National Board Member Holly Robinson Peete with her husband Rodney Peete, Matt Dallas, J.K. Simmons, Mark Salling, Ed Asner, and “Parenthood” cast members Mae Whitman, Sarah Ramos, Max Burkholder and Miles Heizer.