Sunday, October 23, 2011

Open Hearts Big Dreams . . .lots of chills . . .and miles to go -- the anatomy of an accidental auction

How on earth did I get myself here? I find myself asking myself multiple times during the week. I have a demanding full time job, three very active engaged kids, a husband with his own demanding job and we both support a variety of local not for profits. “Here” is the middle of planning a dinner auction to complete funding for our second Ethiopia Reads library and a general literacy program through Tesfa Foundation in Mercado – the poorest section of Addis Ababa. My main experience with auctions is attending them – and that has only been a handful. I learned a bit more about the inner workings from being on a not for profit board. I thought how hard can it be .. I probably should have investigated further. But a little voice in my head said best not to think about it too much or you’ll chicken out. And so I leaped!

As the planning is progressing, I discovered a pattern. Each time I think I am at a stage where I can breathe, I learn some new wrinkle or requirement. And I sense the tentacles of panic waiting to take hold. First, I thought, "Get a venue lined up and a date and things will be well on their way." I find a wonderful spot at the Northwest African American Museum on December 17 and they give me a break on the usual fee. Success!?! But then, I ask myself, "How we brand our event?" The name and visual design needs express all the hope we want to sustain. Luckily I had able collaborators with Yadesa Bojia, an Ethiopian born Seattle artist, and Jane Kurtz, an acclaimed children’s author who grew up in Ethiopia.

I wanted to convey how travel, books and art all have the capacity to open your mind and heart to the diverse world. I also wished to express how I found if you open your heart, and release your fears; big dreams become possible. As Yadesa and I brainstormed, I learned he grew up in the same neighborhood this library and literacy program would serve – I felt chills. After a few passes, we settled on Open Hearts – Big Dreams. I loved it. It expressed so much of what our journey has been and continues to be. As we open our hearts, we enable our own big dreams as well as those of children half way around the world who need our help to enable theirs.

But the euphoria of creative success was short lived as another thought presses in, “What will we eat??” My mind immediately went to our traditional birthday dinner with Leyla at a favorite Ethiopian Restaurant called Kokeb. I call the proprietor and explained what I was planning. She was anxious to help and expresses her view we should all do our part in the world. I could have hugged her through the phone. She then laid out what she could do as a small business owner. She even suggested if we want to spend no money, I could contact a number of restaurants for donations to put together a potluck. I briefly consider this. But then I remember the laundry list of things I have ahead of me and decide the paid option was better.

For entertainment, I felt fortunate to have Yadesa and Jane willing to speak. I also reached out to a young poet I had written about previously. He shared his poem with me at that time but we had not connected since. I did not hear back which did not surprise me much. Then a few days ago, I got an email. He was taking the night off work to read the poem I requested. He also wanted to read a new poem that he was writing just for the event. Many more chills. ...

I have audacious goals for this auction – because I believe if you don’t have those, why bother! To make those a reality, I needed a live auction. But where to find an auctioneer? I asked a friend who recently raised funds for Children’s Hospital and she provided hers. I met him at a local Starbucks. He told me to be on the look out for Santa Claus. Sure enough he bore a striking resemblance to that children’s favorite. I learned as we chatted he is a foster dad, focuses his efforts on children’s charities and his boss was born in Ethiopia . . .chills - chills .. . .

We are now in the throes of inviting what seems everyone we know in Seattle and asking friends and every business we have frequented with help procuring items. My amazing husband is getting us get student volunteers from his school’s national honor society. We are shooting for 150 guests, 100 silent auction items, 10-15 live auction items to raise a grand total of $25,000. . . currently seems like a very Big Dream!

I still have miles and miles to go it seems. . . drinks, a sound system, desserts, centerpieces, an on-line store and much more .. .but the chills along the way give me confidence. The leaping was just the start – I just landed on a ledge just a bit farther down the mountain, at which point I needed to leap again to make progress. I see many more leaps and ledges. What keeps me leaping is all the Open Hearts I encounter -- items arrive, invitations are accepted, volunteers step forward, donations come -- and the Big Dreams the children of Mercado deserve to dream!!