Friday, November 18, 2011

People Like Pete

My favorite thing about my job isn’t the satisfaction of raising money for great blood services initiatives.  It isn’t my funky little D.C. office that’s spitting distance from the White House and 1.5 blocks from a fabulous oyster bar. It isn’t even the paycheck (trust me—it’s not the paycheck).

Corny as it sounds, my favorite aspect of this work is the people I get to meet while I’m out there doing my thing.  Sure, I meet a lot of fellow “train wrecks,” as we multi-gallon blood recipients often jokingly refer to ourselves.  And I meet a lot of “angels”—those multi-gallon blood donors who often demur that it’s nothing. But every so often, I have the privilege of meeting someone like Pete.

Pete has no personal tie to the blood cause.  He doesn’t work for a blood center or for any sort of company remotely in the transfusion medicine arena.  I don’t even know if he donates blood (though ten bucks says he does).

Pete owns Alignment Enterprises, a brand-building company that specializes in live event production. I was introduced to him eight months ago via email when a mutual friend suggested he get in touch with me.  His first correspondence began with this: Mary Richardson sent me your way.  I would be honored to support you, the Foundation for America’s Blood Centers and the Preeclampsia Foundation with your important gala event, Saving Grace.

Now, me being me, I assumed I had another vendor on my hands willing to help me—for a hefty fee—with the huge fundraiser I was co-chairing. So I shot Pete a quick email back: I hope Mary clarified that we do not have an event budget to work with—hopefully that won’t scare you away. Pete’s reply was immediate and emphatic: Count me in!

Thus began a working relationship I would come to cherish.

Pete stepped in with a team of professionals who each brought a special talent to the gala-planning process: writing, production management, audio-visual, photography, videography.  He launched weekly conference calls, during which a dozen of us would participate in the development of the live program for the first-ever public dinner gala being co-hosted by the foundation I head up. He even secured the (pro bono) help of a world-renowned musical composer and conductor, who then wrote an original song for the cause to be performed live at the gala.

Having worked on some fairly major events in my PepsiCo brand management days, I knew how much time and effort Pete’s team was putting into the creation of the Saving Grace program. And every time I sent Pete yet another email of gratitude, the response was pretty consistent: It’s my honor to be involved, Lauren.

When “game day” arrived (last Saturday), Pete and his crew were as supportive and upbeat as they’d been at the outset. They hustled about the grand ballroom adjusting lighting, testing microphones, marking up the stage. My co-chair, Patrick, and I were joking during the rehearsals that we would have been “dead in the water” if not for Pete.  And by joking I mean not really.

Last February, Pete was a complete stranger. But by the time he and I shared a celebratory cocktail in the hotel bar at midnight, this complete stranger had become a dear friend.

It’s all about the people. 

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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), is the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Give Blood. Or I'll Just Take It.

Every year, starting in early September, I hear the same question over and over and over again: “Mom, what are you going to be for Halloween this year?” This question is usually followed by the admonition, “PLEASE don’t wait until the last minute and throw on that stupid witch costume again.”

Halloween is my daughter’s favorite “holiday,” and I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s not really a holiday.  Every year since Clare was 4 years old, we’ve hosted a wild Halloween dance party (as wild as 60 kids and their parents can get), at which costumes are mandatory regardless of age. Parents like to gripe about this facet of our shindig, yet once ensconced in their alter egos, most of the adult attendees have a rip-roarin’ good time unleashing their inner children – and those who don’t aren’t invited back.

Once again, this year I found myself too busy to think about my costume and no clever ideas were popping into my head. Two days before the party, I was still leaning toward blowing the cobwebs off “that stupid witch costume” when Clare asked if we could go to the giant Halloween store.  

Opening in a different retail space each year for one month only, this year’s location happened to be right next to the local Bonfils Blood Center. We had just had our first snow of the season and some of the Bonfils blood collection staff had built a little snowman – complete with a Bonfils hat – right by the entrance to the Halloween store.

And just like that I knew what I was going to be for Halloween: a Blood Donation Advocate.  

Not the kind of blood donation advocate I've spent the last decade being.  Not the kind that flies around giving talks, emceeing events, and participating in media interviews.  No, this blood donation advocate would take an entirely different approach to ensuring that people "gave blood."

Two days later I donned my costume, splashing fake blood all over myself, a pair of hospital scrubs, and one of the myriad “Give Blood” t-shirts I’d acquired over the years. After topping off my outfit with a few fake bloody knives, I laughed myself silly at the absurdity of how I looked. 

And then I thought about the number of times I had counseled other newer blood donation advocates, their auras just oozing with the desire to help. I remembered when Marianne, a heart transplant patient turned blood and organ donation advocate, called me almost in tears over the apparent indifference she was encountering as she set out to convince others to care about the cause. 

“What is wrong with these people?” she lamented to me. “Don’t they get it? I want to slap some of them – or just tie them down and take the blood from them!” I remembered how I’d told her to let it go, that we could only lead a horse to water, but we couldn’t make him, well, give blood

“Listen,” I’d said to Marianne, “We can’t force people to care.  Some will and some won’t. We can only share our stories, straight from the heart, and hope they resonate with enough people that the blood centers get the donors they need coming through their doors.”

And yet for one night, I got to play with the idea of being a different sort of blood donation advocate – the kind that just goes out there and takes what’s needed. Fun – not to mention tasteless – as it was, when my midnight shower washed off the last of the fake blood, I was back to a more subtle form of advocacy: Sharing stories of despair and hope. Touching hearts to inspire action.

Give blood. 

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Lauren's book, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011), is the #1 Top Rated memoir on Kindle. Hardcover copies are available at, or signed copies can be ordered at Happy Reading!