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Picnic on the Park Recap - An Inside Look

It started with a phone call.

“Carla, I’ve always wanted to have an Easter Egg hunt for the whole community.”  The voice on the other end of the line was Dawn Bajalieh, the Realtor with RE/MAX Associates NE who sold us our home a year and a half ago.  We felt lucky that we found Dawn after being relocated to Houston, not only did she do a great job for us during the sale of our home (and as a former Realtor myself I had pretty high standards), but she became our “go-to” person when we needed information as we were settling into Kingwood.

Since then, we have worked on some projects together.  She was a sponsor for the newsletter that I do for Mothers of Young Children.  I helped her husband, Eddie, put together promotional materials for his pool construction company, All Star Pools.

“That’s a great idea, Dawn.”  Since this was the beginning of March and as Easter was just around the corner, I thought that this was an idea she wanted to work on for next year.

“I talked with Cindee at Houston Title and if the event benefits a charity, they can help sponsor it.”

“Okay.”

“I want to have a planning meeting next Tuesday.” 

“Ooooh-kay.”

Next Tuesday was March 9th.  The day that she wanted to have it was April 10th, to be exact, 32 days before the event.  But if anyone could do it, Dawn could.  She has lived in Kingwood for over 20 years, had several businesses before becoming a Realtor, has coached, volunteered, and sponsored who knows what all, and organized the Woodland Hills Elementary Fall Festival for several years.  She knows just about everyone and people close to her know that when she is rolling on a project, they had better be prepared to volunteer or write a check, preferably both. 

I wasn’t sure how much help I would be.  I’ve volunteered at events; however, I hadn’t been responsible for planning one.  As we had only lived in Kingwood for not quite two years, my network was pretty much limited to people I had met through Mothers of Young Children.  But I agreed to sign on and help in whatever capacity I could. 

But I wasn’t about ready to walk into this whirlwind of a project without pulling at least one or two other people with me.  So I called my friend, Anna Campbell, another member of Mothers of Young Children and half of the two person committee that had organized the group’s Holiday Market the previous November.  Anna has a printing business, Humble Print and Fold.

 

When the Tuesday meeting rolled around, we had the Town Center Park reserved and Dawn had a list of activities that she would like to see at the event.  The plan was to have the Easter Egg Hunt, game booths, entertainment, vendor booths, refreshments, and a raffle.  Gwendolyn Condoleo, the Kingwood Community Liaison to the Houston mayor’s office, came to the meeting and gave us a list of to-do’s for city requirements and contact numbers.

We chose The Mission NE as the beneficiary for the event.  The Mission is a non-profit agency assisting families and individuals primarily located in the Northeast corner of Harris County and the Southeast corner of Montgomery County. It assists these families with food, clothing, household items, adult GED classes, ESL classes, life skills classes, Mission!Possible (a children’s summer skills enhancement program for students K-5th grade), Feed My Lambs (a summer lunch program for area children and less fortunate families), holiday assistance, and spiritual, and emotional guidance.
 
The Mission began as a community outreach based out of the old Forest Cove Baptist Church on Hamblen Road in 1995.  In 2000, the operations were relocated to its current location at 22098 Loop 494 in New Caney.  The services have grown from serving 13 families in January of 1995 with two volunteers to 6,298 families and a total of 20,854 individuals in 2003.

Among their menu of assistance programs, they serve holiday meals in addition to their summer lunch program for children, Feed My Lambs.  In the summer of 2002, they served 3,000, in 2003, they served 8,000.  All this without a range.  When the Mission heard that they were selected as the beneficiary of the event, they were very excited and were hoping that the proceeds would be enough to purchase a commercial range for their facilities to use in their meal programs.

So with The Mission on board and a skeleton crew of planners, we were on our way and the countdown had begun.

Our initial plan was to have one person in charge of each area.  Dawn and Cindee were going to work on donations and sponsors, I was going to work on publicity, and Anna was taking care of the site requirements.  Sounds logical and organized, right?  The catch?  That still left the egg hunt, entertainment, vendor booths, and refreshments uncovered.  The solution?  Everyone started pitching in wherever they could.  A little chaotic, but we got it done.

Every business we walked into got hit up for donations.  I could rattle off my spiel in my sleep, ‘I’m helping plan a community Easter Egg hunt benefiting The Mission NE.  There are several ways for businesses to participate . . .”  With one or two exceptions, everyone we talked to was willing to participate in some way.

It was so amazing to me what a giving community this is.  Not only the number of businesses that were willing to participate, but that the biggest givers were the small businesses.  For example, Dr. Shrum’s office placed an ad in the event program, donated a raffle item, and coupons for the business bags that were handed out.  Russell Bates with Temprite A/C and Heat donated the much coveted raffle prize of a scooter, as well as a speaker system.  A to Z Specialties and Shona Byrant with Vinyl Signs and Graphics printed the t-shirts and banners at cost.  These aren’t big corporations with huge marketing budgets, but business owners with a commitment to this community.

Those 32 days flew by.  Donations kept coming in up until the day before the event.  I lost count of the number of times I revised the event program.  I would finish it, send it over to Anna to print, and then get a phone call from Dawn, Cindee, or Tammy Wisenbaker, “I have another raffle/donation, can you add it to the program?” 

The morning of the event arrived.  At 6:30 am, the phone rang.  It was Dawn, who was already at Town Center for set-up, “Carla, can you make a five gift certificates before you come?  Needless to say, I didn’t get there quite as early as I had planned.  

When I arrived at Town Center Park, the game booths we being set-up, Tin Roof BBQ, Trigg’s Café, and Papa Johns were preparing their refreshment tables, and the vendors were busily displaying their wares.  Everything seemed to be clicking into place.

However, there was one blank spot, right where the DJ and sound system was supposed to be.  I had spoken with the DJ two days before to confirm that they knew how to get there, when to get there, and to make sure we had a proper set-up for them.  For reasons unknown, they did not make an appearance and all calls to them that morning went unanswered.  It took a little maneuvering, but a last minute purchase of a megaphone and the loan of a CD player saved the day.  All of the entertainers (Buckles and Bows, Best Kept Secrets, Rowland Ballard Dance Academy, Miss Stacey’s Dance Studio, Battenbergs ATA Blackbelt Academy, and of course, Elvis), rolled with the punches and made the make-shift sound system work.

Things went more smoothly once the sound snafu was resolved.  There was a steady stream of avid egg hunters for each of the three age groups in the morning.  After all the fun of coloring, sack races, cake walks, bunny hops, hunting for treasure (to name a few activities), the revelers enjoyed their favorite refreshment while watching the entertainment.

The day was ended with the much anticipated raffle drawing.  One family proved that it really does pay the more you play when they walked away with four different prizes, including the scooter.

Wewould like to thank everyone who came out to support The Mission, as well as all the donors, sponsors, and volunteers.  You all made the day a great success and I can’t wait to do it again next year!

Carla Alvarez

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Carla Alvarez is the owner of Legacy Marketing Services, which provides comprehensive marketing and business support services.