Thursday, September 19, 2013

On Family-Friendly Fundraisers

There is a special sort of anxiousness that accompanies adult events to which kids are welcome. First you go all-out making sure there is something for the kids to do (we invited the unparalleled Church Street School for Music and Art to do an all-ages bookmaking craft) then you have to make sure the adults will be amply entertained (no worries, we are great at that part!) Then you make sure there is enough wine and that the food will be appropriate for all. (We did a rather carnivorous spread - sorry vegans.) And finally, you cross your fingers, pray the weather holds, and hope it will be fun.

All while knowing that a kid's idea of fun is often very different from yours.

I recall growing up and feeling so privileged when I was allowed to attend an adult-event. A wedding reception. A concert. As a kid, I worried about looking babyish and hoped that the adults didn't find me annoying. I did my best to sit still and took my cue from people older than me. And if I ran around amid the legs of the adults at the end of the night, well, it was only because by then it was hours past my bedtime and I had been fed cake because "the kids are looking sleepy: some sugar should give them a second wind!"

I don't think we needed to worry. At all.

Our rooftop event was well planned and very well received. The kids gathered around the art table as they arrived, and the good folks at Church Street School helped them get to know each other.

Meanwhile, the adults mingled over wine. As the long September rays painted skyscrapers in hues of orange and peach sherbet, a Brazilian jazz guitarist who has played Carnegie Hall (and loves kids!) got up on the stage. His fingers danced across the frets and Hector Vila Lobos tangled across our conversations. Some children sat to listen. Most spun and danced and ran. The sun set further.

Wine was refilled, and the kids grew frenzied. By the time our new curator, Brian Gresko, took the stage to read a hilarious and poignant essay about the changing nature of New York and parenthood, there were two groups in the audience: the adults leaning forward to listen and the packs of thrilled kids streaking madly across the roof from one end to the next.

Thing is: both groups were having fun. Our Fellow of a few years past, Frank Haberle, said some lovely words about the community that Pen Parentis builds and then, as fleets of kids wildly rushed the stage, then off again, he read a great short story--to wild applause, both for the prose and for the Olympic feat of maintaining focus to deliver the piece.

It was such a great night - everyone had fun: the parents, the kids, those of us who had the hilarity of trying to present to a very mobile audience -- and I think more than any other fundraiser I have attended in the past year, ours was purely a celebration of the two organizations' work - the great young musicians that Concert Artist Guild mentors and the amazing community that Pen Parentis, Ltd, is striving to build. Neither executive director showed a pie chart or talked about budgets or needs. We were too busy laughing at the way my daughter decided to upstage me by changing her shoes in the middle of my welcome speech. It was life. It was real. It was hilarious - the whole night - it was delightful and mad and I think it really embodied how honestly difficult it is to balance a serious life in the arts with the tugs and hugs that children demand and require.  But we did it. We threw a family-friendly fundraiser. We did it with the generosity of Church Street School, the graciousness of our host and Board Member Allison Scollar, we did it with a small friendly dog and copious tiny hamburgers and three shades of wine. With live jazz and juice boxes. With tag and a barefoot dance party. And your generous donations. We did it. We threw a big party and when it was done, each of our organizations were more than a thousand dollars richer. And that was fantastic, and we thank everyone who came out to support us - and those who just spread the word, or gave online, we salute you, too!

In the end, it was the little happy faces thanking us for including them in their grown-up party that showed us our true riches.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sarah Gerkensmeyer to John Jodzio, one Pen Parentis Fellow to another

Today is the day of the changeover - we give a $1000 check to a new Pen Parentis Fellow at the season opener for our Salons. Ten seasons - it's astonishing. We are so thrilled and gratified at the wonderful response that we get from our audiences.  Our 2013-2014 Writing Fellow is John Jodzio, who flew in from Minnesota to read for us.  On the occasion of John's inauguration into our hall of Fellows, last year's Fellow, Sarah Gerkensmeyer, wrote him a letter. I reproduce it here for you...


Dear John,

Congratulations on being selected as the 2013-2014 Pen Parentis Fellow!  I wish I could be there at the first salon of the season to welcome you to the family in person.  This letter will have to do.  I thought it would be most helpful for me to take a practical approach and let you know exactly how I have spent my $1,000 award.  While I hope the following budget breakdown is helpful for you, I also apologize because this is a selfish act on my part—as these notes will help me think through some of the things I am so good at avoiding (e.g. keeping close track of expenditures for tax purposes).

$457.98………………………travel to promote my new book, attend residencies, etc. (including  
                                                 airfare, lodging, food)
$50.27……………………….several pats-on-the-back of confidence and motivation
$29.34……………………….an astounding sense of community
$49.58………………………..a few late-night delirious moments of: “I am not a strange alien.  I  
                                                 am not completely in this on my own.”
$138.92………………………my first REAL pair of leather boots, for giving readings and talks,
                                                 feeling author-y, etc.
$34.26………………………..the reassurance that this talk of balancing parenting and writing is
                                                 not taboo or strange or petty or inconsequential;  
$99.99………………………..access to a built-in audience of folks who love literature (and
                                                 swanky hangout spots)
$60.88……………………….about two dozen doses of good humor, perspective, and humility
$56.74……………………….networking—I MET KELLY LINK
$22.05……………………….an entire year of stellar publicity for my work
$priceless……………………the amazing, invigorating, bold, inventive, spectacular,
                                                 kind, and imaginative work that Pen Parentis does to support the
 literary arts, and to invite someone like little old me into this wild,   
 wonderful world

I hope all of that adds up correctly, John.  But I’m a fiction writer, not a mathematician.  And even if the figures are slightly off, I hope this budget is enough to show you how amazing the honor of being a Pen Parentis Fellow truly is.  You are in for one beautiful year (and beyond).  So sharpen those pencils and wipe the smudges off the computer screen and get ready to spend big.

Best, Sarah Gerkensmeyer


You can buy Sarah's book on Amazon through this link: