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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Philanthropy never looked so good

A stifled smile and beckoning crook of the finger is how Whitney Ivey 08C paced the models from off the runway during the first Atlanta Young Alumni and Caucus of Emory Black Alumni (CEBA) fashion benefit for children’s leukemia research, Thursday, March 26. I could see Whitney framed through the lens of my Canon Rebel XT (I was the self-appointed photog for the night), trying her best not to laugh at the intentionally over-exaggerated poses by some of the male alumni models as she sent them one-by-one, alumna by alumnus, down the red carpet in between Bill Hallman’s two ateliers in Virginia-Highland.

Montshona Edwards 07C, event-coordinator extraordinaire, confidently watched her fellow alumni strut their stuff from the end of the runway as the rest of the alumni models hid inside the back room, checking makeup, hurriedly fixing scarves, trying to hide pesky price tags, and anxiously awaited Whitney’s subtle signal.

It all started as a proposal for an event partnership between CEBA, an interest group of the EAA, and the Atlanta Young Alumni. Montshona then added the fashion twist, and Darrah Brustein 06C offered the “in” we needed—Bill Hallman’s contact information. And so, the seeds of the CEBA-Young Alumni fashion show were planted, but everyone knows that Emory alumni are never fully satisfied—why stop there?

That’s when the idea of making it a benefit came into play—we could make the fashion show into something more, something that would hopefully last longer than spring’s fleeting fashions (fabulous as they were). If we made the show benefit the Emory’s Children Leukemia Research Fund, not only could we fund-raise from alumni for a great cause, but we could double our outcome as all donations would also count toward Campaign Emory, the University’s $1.6B dollar campaign.

All our planning, excitement, lengthy email threads, and runway run-throughs resulted in a fantastic fashion show; with wine and hors d’oeuvres in hand, CEBA members, young alumni, and even some Emory staff gathered at Bill Hallman to usher in the season’s fashions—at a 15 percent discounted rate, courtesy of Mr. Hallman himself. Stationed at a faux driftwood table, DJ Mike Bradley, a friend of Jamie Chan 06C, donated his skills and spun amazing beats and mixes to keep the crowds hyped while Blue Taylor, a professional MAC makeup artist from the Purple Door Salon graciously anointed the models with signature fashion stripes—blue for the boys, white for the ladies.

After the models had made their two runs down the runway (wearing signature outfits they had picked out themselves a couple of days earlier…with some subtle post-production help from the Highlands’ fashion guardian angel, Bill) alumni mingled and entered a raffle for a free month of boot camp, courtesy of BTB Fitness, while backstage we wrapped up the night with some mini-photo shoots before closing up shop.

Click here to see pictures from the event, and if you’d like to join me and other alumni in making a gift to the Emory Children’s Leukemia Research Fund, visit www.emory.edu/give and then type in Children’s Leukemia Research Fund in the “other designation” box.

Who knew that being philanthropic could be so fashionable?

--Cassie Young 07C, program development coordinator, Emory Annual Fund

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The reader

"I still can't believe that Natasha Trethewey gave a poetry reading in our living room!" Charles Haynes 71C 85G told the EAA the other day.

Yes, I guess it's not every day a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet stops by for a visit, but that's the beauty of the EAA's Faculty on the Road program. Not all of Emory's teaching is done in the classroom. When Emory faculty travel, the EAA invites them to meet with alumni while they are on the road (hence the name "Faculty on the Road"). Sometimes it's for dinner; other times, like Trethewey's recent visit, there is a presentation involved. The formality varies.

Haynes, a 2005 Emory Medalist, and his partner, Christopher Wilson, hosted Trethewey and 20 other members of the Emory community in their Alexandria, Va. home on March 15, and from all reports the day was wonderful.

Trethewey read poems from several of her collections, including her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Native Guard, and answered questions from the guests. Haynes and Wilson said she was engaging and insightful, and for anyone who has met Trethewey and heard her present, that description is no surprise.

Poetry readings can be a great time, especially when the presenter is skilled. Alexandria wasn't the first time Trethewey has read for alumni, and we look forward to working with her again.

-- Eric Rangus, director of communications, EAA

Friday, March 20, 2009

Making Wednesday a little more Wonderful

For the past three years, Emory students have come together on Wednesday afternoons in an effort to improve student life, community, and collaborative efforts at Emory. Clubs, organizations, and causes set-up tables on Asbury Circle to promote their current projects, get some free publicity, and learn of opportunities for collaboration with other organizations.

Essentially, the new Wonderful Wednesday (I'm sure many alumni from 1982 and earlier fondly remember Wonderful Wednesdays when they were students) is a weekly networking celebration on Asbury Circle—just substitute light hors d’oeuvres for a free slice of pizza and business cards for free pens. What could be more natural than utilizing this weekly networking celebration to spread the work about E-Connection, Emory’s new online networking community, to students?

This past Wednesday, March 18, members of the Student Alumni Association (SAA) did just that. A team of dedicated SAA members invited their fellow students to learn more about Emory’s new online networking community and to set-up their own account on E-Connection. For students, E-Connection has the potential to be a hybrid—think Facebook meets LinkedIn with a LearnLink (Emory’s much-loved undergraduate email system) flair—I heard one student explain. Essentially, we are talking the professional community of a student’s dreams. The online community aspect this generation of student has never been with out, with the possibility for tremendous professionalism (re: no inappropriate pictures from Fraternity formals).

With the recent launch of E-Connection, the EAA has extended the collaborative work of programs such as Wonderful Wednesday to include alumni. Alumni might not be able to make it back to campus every week, but can hopefully find a spare moment in the day to sign into E-Connection and check for opportunities and confirm their latest friend requests.

--Megan Kruer 08C, 2008-09 fellow, Emory Annual Fund/Emory Alumni Association

Strap on your earphones

Hi everybody,

We've got some new content on iTunes U! The audiofile from Celebration Emory: New York and a podcast from our Houston alumni interviewing featuring a great group of alumni were posted earlier this week.

Kumasi Adoma 01C, Eric Barvin 07C, Cheronda Bryan 04B, Carlyn Burton 02C 02G, and Bonnie Dilber 04C were all very generous with their time during our lunch break in between sessions. If you detect any crunching during our 10-minute conversation, it was the lettuce.

We've also got an interview with Turman award recipient Sally Lehr 65N 76MN.

You'll need to have an iTunes account to easily access the files. But since Emory's been on iTunes U since October, we're sure you've already signed up.

--Eric Rangus, director of communications, EAA

Friday, March 13, 2009

Smile, New York!

Annemarie Poyo Furlong 90C spent her time at Celebration Emory: New York, Thursday, February 26, taking photos of pretty much everything that moved. You can see the fruits of her labor right here--a slide show of more than 50 photos on the Campaign Emory website, including many of the very happy attendees and some great shots of the Emory University Symphony Orchestra in action.

Sorry, no pictures of me at the bar.

--Eric Rangus, director of communications, EAA

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Where it all began... Oxford

Greetings! I am Lindsay Topping, manager of the Emory Alumni Board (EAB), which is a group of 38 + members representing all of the different schools and units at Emory. They also come from all over the United States. I plan their quarterly meetings, and last Friday, March 6, we took the group to historic Oxford College, since many of them had never been there before. It was great to see how excited everyone was to spend the day at Oxford and how impressed they were with this community, even during their first moments on campus.

I am a newbie to Oxford, as well. This recent trip was only my fifth trip there. Several of my previous visits were due to the fact that my two brothers —Jason Topping 07Ox 09C and Carson Topping 09Ox – are Oxford alums, and I wanted to get a taste of their experiences there (and make sure they were behaving!).

We could not have asked for a more beautiful day at Oxford. The skies were blue and cloudless. The flowers were starting to bloom with the newly warmer temperatures in Georgia. And the students were pumped to be going on Spring Break beginning later that afternoon.

Four of our EAB members, all Oxford alumni, served as hosts for the day—Jim Bailey 67Ox 69C, Ed Cloaninger 91Ox 03C, Isam Vaid 93Ox 95C 99PH and Art Vinson 66Ox 68C. We took the board on tours of the main campus and of the new sustainability initiatives happening at Oxford, ate in their dining room with Oxford students, staff and council members, spent time in the Student Center hearing and discussing hot topics at Emory and were invited to Dean Stephen Bowen’s home for a reception at the end of the day. We couldn’t have asked for a better day at Oxford and hope to take this board back soon. If you have not visited this campus, it is a must do, plus it’s where Emory all began!

Click here to see a slideshow from the day (photos by Tom Brodnax 65Ox 68C).

Lindsay Topping, manager of the Emory Alumni Board, EAA

Friday, March 6, 2009

Waltzing across Texas. In a rented Pontiac.

The drive from Houston to Eagle Pass, which I did on Sunday, March 1, is long (about five hours) without a lot to look at (unless you like dirt and scrub brush). It's a setting that screams mind-numblingly boring. But I find it adventurous.

Driving around the country, in my opinion, is the bast way to truly experience all the variety our nation has to offer. So while the deserts of south Texas are harsh, they're also brimming with adventure and some nice scenery.

I met Karen Smith 95G at a gas station on the outskirts of Eagle Pass. To find her, she described her vehicle. "It's the dirtiest blue van you've ever seen!" she said.

And she was right. The desert dust was caked on her Honda Odyssey so thickly that it was tough to determine its color. (It's blue, but you really have to look closely.)

"I live in the desert," she shrugged. And she also put a lot of miles on the van, which was donated by a reverend in San Antonio--190,000 as of this week. Smith often drives back and forth across the border several times a day--most of the border guards and toll plaza attendants know her by sight and always greet her warmly.

Anyway, that was Eagle Pass. And the experience was unforgettable. As I mentioned yesterday, I'll be cranking out some more material about it in the weeks to come. But the journey to the Rio Grande was memorable, too.

One of the ways I like to remember trips is through the music I hear on the journey. If I hear a certain song (frequently ones I hear for the first time), I can close my eyes and be taken back to where I heard it. It's a great way to relive a trip (The song-bringing-back-memories thing is hardly exclusive to travel, but you know what I mean).

As much as possible I like to listen to local radio stations. I'm a constant flipper, so I can keep track of five or six at a time. Surfing the dial in San Antonio, I found 92.5 The Outlaw, which specializes in Texas country music (Texas country a little harder than its Nashville cousin and not naturally found in Georgia ... the country stations here are pretty much Rascal Flatts and Kenny Chesney all-day/all-night). It's like you can almost taste the dust on the guitars sometimes.

92.5 The Outlaw had a nice, strong signal that carried me almost all the way from San Antonio to Mexico (about 100 miles). Most of the songs played I'd never heard before. A lot them I really liked. My favorites are listed below. I'm sure you can find them on any one of many online music stores, none of which need any promotion here.

- Rich O'Toole: In a Minute or 2
- The Bois d'Arcs: Dead & Gone
- Cory Morrow: Texas Time Travelin'
- Reckless Kelly: Hey Say May (this is an older song)
- Micky and the Motorcars: Long Enough To Leave

Sometimes a setting requires a certain type of music. Texas south of San Antonio--covered in dust, leafless scrub brush, and slowly bronzing cacti--just aches for the gruff beauty of the songs above. Sight and song bring out the best in each other.

--Eric Rangus, director of communications, EAA

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Crossing the border

"¿Cuantos aƱos tienes?" said the little voice accompanied by a tug at my jeans.

I paused for a second to quickly translate the question from Spanish to English in my head. The little girl who asked just looked up at me, smiling, patiently waiting. First I had to remember how old I was, then I had to remember how to say it in Spanish (I studied the language for two years in high school and three semesters in college, but my fluency, which was once so advanced that I could think in Spanish, is long gone). The mental process took about three seconds.

"Treinta y ocho."

Her eyes grew so wide they nearly popped out of her head. Immediately, she let go of my leg and ran over to a table across the room and whispered something to another little girl. Giggling ensued.

I'd like to think that means I don't look 38. Or maybe they had a bet. I hope Tamara (that was the girl's name; she's 10) took the over.

That encounter was one of many that have been permanently etched into my memory following my March 1 visit to the Casa de Misericordia (House of Mercy) Orphanage in Nava, Mexico, which sits about 10 miles across the Rio Grande from the town of Eagle Pass, TX. It's run by Karen Smith 95G and her husband David, two of the most energetic, friendly, caring people I have ever met.

The Smiths, who have two adopted children themselves, opened the Casa in 2005, and it now houses 36 children ranging in age from 4-17. Actually, calling the Casa an "orphanage" is a bit of a misnomer. All of the children have parents. Many, though, have been abandoned by those "parents" or taken away by the Mexican government and placed under the supervision of the Smiths. So far, five children have been placed--two of them in Georgia. About 10 others are in the process of being adopted (a process that can take more than two years).

There is no question that these children's young lives have been filled with too much heartache and struggle. But their attitude is remarkable. First of all, it's like the Smiths' first stop in populating the Casa was Central Casting at the Disney Channel. All of the children are off-the-chart cute and overflowing with energy. Maybe they were just playing up to the visitors (a church group from Ohio had arrived at the Casa the day before to do some work), but I don't think so. Before coming to the Casa, joy was probably in very short supply for these children, and while a group home--no matter how nurturing--is not an easy way to grow up, the Casa is surely the best place these children have ever seen. And that positive atmosphere flows directly from the family who takes care of them.

Karen Smith graduated from Mercer University with a degree in music and earned her master's in sacred music from Emory. A native of Georgia, she and David lived in Georgia all their lives; she taught music for the better part of two decades. In their spare time, they took frequent mission trips with their church to Mexico to help out the orphanages there. After their children had moved out of the house and graduated from college, their experiences in Mexico led them to make a significant change.

"This is something we've been called to do," Karen said, and in 2004 they moved to the dusty desert of south Texas to get the Casa started. In 2005, they moved into their current facility.

We'll be posting a lot of photos from the Casa really soon, and there are several more stories from the Casa to tell. It'll take a few days to post the photos, since I have to get them developed. Yes, I took a film camera. The EAA has a digital camera for staff use, but I just feel more comfortable taking pictures with my own machine.

One more vignette before I go ... the kids love cameras, and they love having their pictures taken. As soon as they saw me take it out of my bag, they were lining up to be photographed, each child's smile bigger than the previous one.

Once I took their picture, they'd grab the camera (not rudely, they just wanted to have it). Many of them wanted to take pictures of me (I'm VERY interested in how those turned out ... I wonder if I have a head), but all of them wanted to see digital samples.

Which my camera didn't have. Which brought a quizzical look to their faces. The best I could do to explain was to say, "Camera vieja." Old camera. They had never seen a film camera before.

You should have seen their faces when I showed them the record player I had in the car.

That was a joke.

--Eric Rangus, director of communications, EAA