by GOODly Women Guest blogger Susan Alexander-Wilson
I knew I wanted to celebrate turning 40 in a big way. I’d seen friends have big blowout bashes, go on crazy trips to foreign beaches, check in for a weekend at a luxury spa – it all sounded good to me. After all, turning 40 is a big deal. It’s Mid-Life, if you’re lucky. You’re halfway there, well past the goofiness of youth and well ahead of the decline of old age. It’s the sweet spot. And it should be celebrated!
Mulling over the possibilities, nothing felt right. I don’t have the means to take a group of friends away for a trip, a decadent party isn’t really my style, and I don’t need anything. I’m not into purses or jewelry or anything like that, and I have a really comfortable life. I’m lucky and I know it. When a friend celebrated his birthday with a happy hour, and asked people to donate to a relief fund for Haiti in lieu of gifts, something clicked. I didn’t give it much conscious thought, but the idea was forming until one morning, I woke up with the very clear idea that I was going to raise $40,000 for charity for my 40th birthday. “40 Large” was underway.
The first thing I did was start a blog and announce on Facebook that I was going to do this. Once it was out there, there could be no turning back. I decided to raise money for St. Louise House, a place in Austin that provides furnished apartments and support for homeless mothers and their children; Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM); ImaginArt, a place that provides adults with disabilities who identify as artists studio and gallery space, art supplies, mentorship and meals; and Circle of Health International, a brave group of people providing medical support to women in places of crises. These groups resonated with me personally and it was a joy being able to fundraise for them.
Almost immediately, people started offering to help. Once I set my intention, it took on a life of its own – it turns out, when you’re doing something good, people want to be a part of it. That goodness grows.
A friend passed me an envelope with $200 within the first few days. Then a group of friends having their own 40th birthday party turned it into a fundraiser for my efforts, asking guests to donate to 40 Large instead of bringing gifts. That was another $200. Another friend asked me to help him turn his already planned 40th birthday party into a fundraiser – we did a record raffle and people donated vinyl from their personal collections to the cause, raising several hundred dollars. The Knitting Nest hosted a crafting party and we raised some money. It was really happening!
One friend privately revealed to me that his family had a philanthropic foundation and with their help, he would help me reach my goal. If I could raise $8,000, they would match it to make it $40,000. How incredible is that?!
Dipak Topiwala at The Whip-In hosted a blow-out bash with a specially brewed beer just for the party – all keg proceeds went straight to 40 Large. Tattoo Manufacturing donated thousands of temporary tattoos so I could have a tattoo booth – I don’t know them at all; I just asked, and they wholeheartedly obliged. Many of my talented and brilliant friends offered their goods and services to be auctioned off at the party: Feral gave a wild boar hunting weekend; Ethan Azarian and Melissa Knight and Eric Billig and lots of other friends gave works of art; Typewriter Rodeo donated tips from their impromptu poems; Ft Lonesome donated custom chain stitching; friends donated massages and writing/editing/marketing services and consultations and tea parties and guitar pedals and landscaping plants and sewing classes and handmade bowls and parenting sessions and aural cleansings and haircuts and blowouts and gift cards to their businesses. It was just so much! Friends from all over the country sent in items and money and support. Together, we raised the $40,000 and it was easy. Even better, it was fun.
I ended up getting some pretty spectacular gifts for my 40th birthday. Of course, there’s the gift of giving. It was amazing to be able to give so much money to groups that could really use it. I also got to experience an incredible outpouring of goodness from friends, friends I’ve made over the past 40 years. What could be better than that? I got to reinforce my belief that people are truly good, and when given the opportunity, they shine. And I know that goodness begets goodness – one person having a charitable birthday party turned into THIS, and the ripples continue to spread.
That’s better than a diamond bracelet any day.
Susan lives in Austin, where she spends what little non-working, non-parenting, non-wifing time she has scheming, dreaming and sharing the goodness.