How Does a Flip-Flop Raise 25K?

Unit event planner shares the details of a creative and wildly successful fundraising effort.

3/14/2019 9:00 AM

How Does a Flip-Flop Raise 25K?

By Jessica Smith

Those present on April 17, 2018, at the Southeast Regional Conference will all agree a miracle happened over a flip-flop. Let’s begin with a story. A little girl, 9 years old, was running in the woods with her friends and fell into a hole filled with burning coals. As she lifted herself from the pile, the ashes stuck to her—burning her foot, ankle and shin. The flip-flops she was wearing that day saved a portion of her skin from the third-degree burns, leaving her with a perfect outline of a flip-flop permanently embedded in her foot.

I am the event planner for the North Carolina Collectors Association and, together with Roger Medlin, helped coordinate the Southeastern Regional Unit meeting, which was put on for members of the Virginia Collectors Association, North Carolina Collectors Association, South Carolina Collectors Association, Georgia Collectors Assocation and Tennessee Collectors Association.

I was lucky enough to meet the young girl described above while volunteering at Camp Celebrate, a camp in North Carolina dedicated to pediatric burn survivors. The first time I met her, she was quiet and reserved, wearing long socks and sneakers in the 90-degree heat out of shame for the marks on her foot. After a weekend of being around other children who had scars either more minor or significantly worse, she was finally able to share her story. The lesson she learned at camp was that no one else in the entire world had the exact same mark that she had. She said that she was now proud of her scar because it made her special and unique. She left that weekend wearing shorts and hot pink flip-flops, with a huge smile on her face.

When the time came to choose a charity recipient for the bottle auction fundraiser event at the Southeast Regional Conference, this camp experience and the tragic loss of a fellow North Carolina Unit member’s mother and brother in a fire in Asheville, N.C, made the Camp Celebrate charity a perfect choice.

As the units came together for the charity event that night, the flip-flop story truly struck a chord for all those present. We are a group of people who belong to what is perceived to be an “ugly” industry, raising funds for kids who on the outside may be exhibiting what all of us collection owners have battled with on the inside. Our industry has been burned, and we are scarred by the legislative actions that often make hard-working agency owners and collectors feel like bad guys.

At the Southeast Regional Conference’s charity bottle auction, I shared this girl’s perception of her scars to the room full of agency owners, collectors, attorneys and vendors. I explained that even though she is scarred, she finds beauty in her experience and enjoys the uniqueness it gives her.

Now you wouldn’t think someone would pay $200 for a can of Colt 45, but what began as a lighthearted bottle auction became a collector’s challenge to hit a goal of $25,000. As the cheap bottles of beer and wine were passed around for $1,100 a piece, magic happened.

Dan Heath, a collection manager at Stern Recovery Services Inc., sent a message to his staff and collected $600 over the phone as a pure donation. As we ran low on bottles, vendors stepped up to supply free services: Datamatx offered Atlanta Braves tickets, Applied Innovation offered a free month of consultation, and other vendors like TCN, Arbeit and VoApps also made generous contributions. ACA International President-Elect Roger Weiss and Ladonna Bohling, well-known names within our industry and association, auctioned themselves to travel at their own expense to bidders for free staff training sessions.

Before we knew it, that flip-flop story allowed us to hit our goal of $25,000.

While this auction illustrates the kindness found within the Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee units, it also paints a picture of the accounts receivable management industry as a whole. A group often seen as scarred and ugly on the outside are truly good people, trying to make a difference in the collection industry and our communities by exhibiting charitable hearts and souls.

Overall, neither the bottles nor the auctioned services were the prize. The prize was sponsoring kids like the little girl in the story to go to a camp that celebrates their life and gives them a support system to help them through their challenges.

When I presented the check to Camp Celebrate, the director told those present that you never know what a chance meeting can do. Little did they know that one volunteer would come back the following year and present such a big check to their cause. The little girl’s parents were there too, and they cried and were so proud that their daughter’s voice and positive outlook helped bring opportunities to other campers.

The bottle auction will be happening again at the Second Annual Southeast Regional Conference, April 17-19, 2019, in Asheville, N.C. All proceeds raised are being donated to camps in each of the four states that make up this philanthropic unit.

Jessica Smith is the director of human resources and client relations at KLS Financial Services.

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