Merlene Davis: Event planners organize party to help tornado victims

Aerial view of downtown West Liberty, Ky. on Saturday March 3, 2012. Photo by Allen Bolling
Aerial view of downtown West Liberty, Ky. on Saturday March 3, 2012. Photo by Allen Bolling

What I like most about the Raise of Hope fund-raising event Saturday is that it is the result of a group of people using their talents to help rebuild the lives of tornado victims.

Thirty Lexington businesses and organizations that make their living producing social events are donating those skills and expertise to organize a party that will give all ticket-sale proceeds toward long-term rebuilding efforts in West Liberty.

And all means all.

The idea began with husband-and-wife team Shannon and Carrie Ferguson, who own Events with Design. Shannon Ferguson has close ties to West Liberty, including a brother who lost his home when the tornado barreled through downtown March 2.

The Fergusons' business is to rent tents, tables and decorations for special events and design their setup.

"He was like, we have to do something," Carrie Ferguson said about her husband. "But we really didn't have any money to send them, and we know it will take a lot of money to rebuild."

What they do have, however, is a lot of friends in the business who know how to throw great parties, which was essential because the couple "had never planned an event and didn't have the knowledge of the front end," Carrie Ferguson said.

Michele Landers knows how to throw a party. Landers has been a certified wedding planner for 13 years and owns Weddings by Michele. She willingly came on board.

"Everyone in the wedding business joined without hesitating," she said. "We are a pretty tight group."

Within 48 hours, the friends had caterers, bartenders and servers who were volunteering their time, and the Headley-Whitney Museum as the venue.

Three wedding planners are handling the décor and silent-auction items, and florists are donating the centerpieces, Landers said. Also, there will be food, a live band to entertain the guests, a cash bar to liven things up a bit and a lounge with a big-screen TV to watch the NCAA men's basketball tournament. What else does a party need?

"We had things pretty much rolling by Monday afternoon," Carrie Ferguson said. "Usually you spend a year planning something like this. We've spent a week and have things pretty much set."

That's because they and their friends are professionals. They know how to do their jobs. "Everyone was just so nice to us," Landers said. "When we asked, they just said yes."

But a big question mark lingered over what to do with the money.

"The hardest part was how to handle the money," Carrie Ferguson said. "There are a lot of things involved with working with a non-profit group, and we didn't know where to start."

The friends contacted the Blue Grass Community Foundation, a group familiar with fund-raising.

"What I love about them calling us is that they really had an aspiration to help in Morgan County," said Lisa Adkins, president and chief executive of the foundation. "They called the community foundation to make that as easy as possible."

The foundation's job is to make sure people get their charitable tax deductions and to take the administrative burden off the friends, Adkins said. "Folks will have the opportunity to make check or credit card donations that are 100 percent deductible."

The foundation already had started the Eastern Kentucky Tornado Rebuilding Fund, so it was simple to add the Raise of Hope group, with money going to Morgan County.

Now it is our turn to help out. Everyone is invited to Raise of Hope, the party with a purpose. If you can't make it, you can donate online at the foundation's Web site.

I'm sure residents of West Liberty will take as many new friends as they can get.