Shawn Smith, of Dedicated Commercial Recovery, demonstrates why NEFA’s principle of commitment to Community doesn’t and shouldn’t end at the conference door.
Shawn Smith walked down the ornate corridor of the Queen Mary, the jewel of the Cunard-White Star Cruise Line, with his fellow NEFA conference attendees, as the tour leader told stories of paranormal activity on the 1,019-foot ship. Surrounded by good company, art deco elegance, and creative entertainment, it was the perfect way to unwind after a hectic conference day.
The event was held as a complement to the 2016 NEFA Conference in Long Beach, CA, and included happy hour and a ghost tour on the idyllic Queen Mary.
The goal of the event was two-fold:
To provide a casual outlet for conference attendees to network and build relationships, and,
To raise funds for Su Casa – a local Long Beach charity dedicated to ending domestic violence.
“Networking and relationship building time is one of the two critical pieces to these conferences,” said Smith, CEO of Dedicated Commercial Recovery Inc.
In its own operations, Dedicated has a strong commitment to serving the community and giving back. A commercial collection agency, Dedicated donates five meals to the nonprofit group Feed My Starving Children for every account signed, and five more for every account collected. The company has donated more than 15,900 meals just in the first two quarters of 2018.
“I have been blessed in the world to be the owner and CEO of this company and believe that blessing was not meant for just me,” Smith said. “It was given to me to use as a platform to bless others.”
Smith saw a unique opportunity to serve the networking needs of conference attendees while giving back to the community hosting the NEFA conference.
“Conference attendees like to go out and have fun either way, so it made sense for me to help start a committee that planned and executed fun networking events at conferences to raise money for charities,” explained Smith.
Smith helped put together a committee with a purpose: to plan charitable networking events at major NEFA conferences that support organizations working with victims of domestic abuse.
Su Casa, a Long Beach community organization, was quickly recognized as a group whose work resonates with the purpose of this committee.
“I grew up being the victim of abuse and seeing my other family members being abused. The shelters and organizations that help mothers and their children in this area are near to my heart,” said Smith.
Lovern Gordon, National Sales Executive at Boston Financial & Equity and President of Love Life Now Foundation, connected the committee to Su Casa. Gordon visited the facility on a previous visit to Long Beach and quickly recognized the alignment with her foundation, which works to improve the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence.
Su Casa offers shelter, education, training, and a fresh start to men, women, and children affected by domestic violence, as well as community outreach to raise awareness. The funds raised through the charitable networking event would go towards building a room specifically for the children that Su Casa serves.
“When the mother comes in, the children have a place to play and take their minds off the potentially horrible situation they just came from,” he explained.
The volunteer committee included prominent NEFA members Lovern Gordon, Reid Raykovich, Michael Toglia, and Mae Philpott – plus strong support from NEFA Executive Director Gerry Egan and Kim King, NEFA Senior Association Coordinator. Everyone pitched in to plan, promote, and support the event.
“Michael and Kim helped with the promotion, and Reid was essential in the planning phase given her experience with events,” said Smith. “Lovern was instrumental in connecting with Su Casa, and Mae was amazing at engaging sponsors and creating marketing materials.”
By soliciting sponsorships for the cost of the event, the committee was able to donate 100% of the ticket proceeds towards the Su Casa children’s room.
The event was a huge success. The epic, Titanic-like ship gave out-of-town conference attendees a gorgeous taste of local history. Over 100 people joined in the fun, and people who couldn’t make the event still donated to support the charitable partnership. Funds raised totaled $5,900, every bit of which was donated.
“Every penny went to Su Casa,” said Smith, praising Mae Philpott for her work securing the cost-covering sponsorship of Stearns Bank, Firstlease, Dakota Financial, Wright Law Group, Ascentium Capital, Channel Partners Capital, VFI Corporate Finance, North Star Leasing, and the Cobra Capital and Lti Technology Soutions.
That money has since been used to build the children’s room at Su Casa. It’s a safe space where kids can relax, play, and just be kids. “The children’s room that [the NEFA event funded] provides a quiet place for reading, arts and crafts, playtime with toys, and costumes to spur the imagination and creativity,” said Dean Lockwood, Director of Development & Community Outreach at Su Casa. “It’s an area for counselors to work with the children who are our residents.”
According to Lockwood, Su Casa provided over 1,300 counseling sessions just last year to the children in residence at Su Casa. Through the course of the year, 157 residents used Su Casa emergency shelter services; 101 of those 157 were children.
This kind of partnership makes an impact not only directly, but by raising awareness of domestic violence in a space where it is not normally discussed.
“[This is] a cause that is near and dear to me [and to many others], but domestic violence is not often talked about in corporate spaces,” explained Lovern Gordon. “To have been able to be part of an awareness event while at the NEFA Conference…was something I think [attendees] will never forget.”
The volunteer committee is carrying the tradition forward at this year’s NEFA conference in Charlotte, which will be held at 204 North Kitchen & Cocktails. The event will benefit Gordon’s foundation, Love Life Now, which is dedicated to raising awareness of domestic violence.
The space at 204 North offers travelers to the conference another gorgeous taste of local culture, with locally sourced food and craft cocktails in a historic industrial building just two blocks from the conference venue.
Smith is dedicated to keeping the momentum of these events going, noting that organizing easy-to-access events will be a key focus for the committee.
“[With] my background and the fact that Lovern Gordon runs Love Life Now – which helps fight the good fight against abuse in the house – it only made sense to make this more of the focus of our giving and fundraising,” said Smith. “The impact [of the 2016 event] took an army, and we can’t wait to raise another [army] to help those in need.”