“Last year I had the honor of creating the first ever CovCarnival. This was a carnival specifically created for homeless and underprivileged youth that utilize the services of Covenant House in New Orleans. This carnival was just a small part of a “give back” program entitled “Event Pros Take Action” or EPTA. EPTA was started in 2005 after the devastation that occurred from Hurricane Katrina, that allows event professionals to give back to those in need. Founded by my good friend Susie Perelman of Mosaic Linens, I have been in awe at the huge group of event professionals that year after year have made a difference not only in New Orleans, but also in San Marcos, Texas, helping the flood victims of that community. I was not able to be part of the EPTA this year, but my heart will always be with all the event professionals that tirelessly and generously give of their time and talent, as well as the victims of these devastating weather anomalies. Here is an inspiring report of what occurred this summer in New Olreans for EPTA and the second annual CovCarnival.” – David Merrell
Event Pros Take Action (EPTA) returned for the sixth time to NOLA this summer to help a community in need. 11 years after Katrina Swept through the Gulf destroying everything in its’ path including parts of NOLA, remarkably there is still work to be done. EPTA has been happy to assist in the recovery, sending hundreds of event industry volunteers over the years from around the country to lend a hand. Each year we work on homes being rebuilt by St. Bernard Project, and this year was no different. After contributing $25,000 toward the rebuild of the Dregory Family home, we spent hours sanding their interior. We left the home each day with sore arms from all the sanding and a fine white dust covering our bodies, clothes and eyes.
Meeting Lisa and her three young children who have never in their lives resided in their house, we felt rewarded to know that in September this family will be moving home.
Each year in our Designing Digs program, we create some magic for a few special homeowners. This year was no different! Our Design Angel, Lenny Talarico CSEP, Executive Director of Events at MGM Resorts Event Productions, led our team for three days to put the finishing touches on the Baham home. One of our lead sponsors, AFR Event Furnishings, donated so much product this year that the large truck couldn’t get down their small street for the delivery. We had to pinch hit and off load the furniture into smaller vehicles in the pouring rain to finish the transfer! Thankfully E Freight Solution was there to ease the process for us!
The EPTA team got to work assembling furniture, hanging artwork and curtains, filling the cabinets with china, glass and silver, and preparing for the big welcome home party! With lots of labor (and 18 bags of mulch), we transformed a mud pit of a back yard into a relaxing yard for the family to enjoy lazy summer evenings. Tragically, the Bahams have been living in their destroyed home since the hurricane.
How exciting for them to cut the ribbon, and get their first gorgeous new home. Needless to say we were all in tears. With lead support from Rentals- Unlimited and Mosaic, Inc., and with the endless hours of labor from all our volunteers, Etta was speechless as she toured her new digs. Wheelchair bound, she pronounced “I feel so happy that my legs may just lift me up to dance with joy!”
For one final surprise, Groove Boston arranged for a full surround sound of SONOS system to be installed. Bobby Dutton instructed Etta and her grandkids to push “play” on the iPod he presented to them. Within an instant, the music played, laughter erupted and the kids started to groove as the rhythms of Drake filled their home.
Beyond helping out with rebuilds, EPTA was very busy with their Youth Project Initiative. While many parents struggled for years to rebuild their lives, those that were young children when Katrina hit are now faced with serious issues as troubled teens. Without proper support, these kids really need some help getting back on their feet as young adults and EPTA was there to assist. For the second year in a row, EPTA worked as mentors for Liberty’s Kitchen with David Lombardo of Lombardo’s spearheading our efforts. Several of our seasoned volunteers were leaders of round table discussions for students enrolled in the program. The program aims to teach skills which will help them get jobs in the hospitality world, so who better to teach them about the industry than our EPTA’ers? Discussions focused on mental and physical well-being, how to interview and handle the responsibilities of a job, and how to identify interests and chase professional dreams.
For the second year in a row, EPTA partnered with Covenant House NOLA on a fun filled afternoon we created called Cov Carnival. Covenant House is an organization that provides a safe haven to homeless, runaway and at-risk youth providing food, clothing, shelter and comprehensive health services to upwards of 700 youth per year. Sunshine Woodyard of Hello! Florida led the planning of the day, working with over 2 dozen sponsors in our industry who underwrote the activities for the teens and the staff of Covenant House. From a DJ and Mechanical Bull to a dunk tank and bounce around, the young adults (and many of their small children) had a chance to laugh and play and forget about some of their troubles.
As Rich Arnold, Director of Development and Communications, commented, “The best success for these kids occurs when strong bonds are formed with their case workers. Cov Carnival provides a platform for building trust through joyous activities. Moving forward, these bonds enable the kids to seek guidance and make better life decisions.”
In the end, we left NOLA exhausted and a bit wet and sticky (it was hot, humid and it rained quite a bit this year). But more than that, we returned to our homes enriched and fulfilled from our collective experiences. We are expecting to return next July, so mark your calendar now if you want to join in the best giveback EVER!