Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Case Foundation's Resident Idealist on the Idealism in Action Gala

By Isabel Huston, corps member serving on the CSX Team at Turner Elementary School

I recently had the chance to sit down with the Case Foundation’s “resident idealist,” Michael Smith, to chat about City Year Washington, DC’s upcoming Idealism in Action Gala. The Case Foundation the proud team sponsor of the City Year Washington, DC team serving at Simon Elementary School.
Mr. Smith has been involved with CYDC nearly since the site’s inception and has been attended many a City Year Gala. I was excited to chat with him, as he offered his impression of this Washington, DC social event and highlighted what makes it so special from the view of a gala veteran.
IH: How long has The Case Foundation been a City Year champion?

MS: The Case Foundation has been a champion of City Year since it was founded here in Washington, DC. Steve and Jean Case attended a cyzygy (City Year’s national conference) and fell in love with City Year’s model and mission, and decided that they wanted to help bring such a great organization here to Washington. So, The Case Foundation committed to being one of the founding parents of the City Year Washington, DC site. Along with other organizations, we brought others to the table, and we were excited to help get City Year started here.
 IH: Your bio describes you as The Case Foundation's "resident idealist," how do you keep the spirit of idealism alive through your work?

MS: Well, I do have days that challenge my idealism, but the wonderful part of my job is that I get to manage the Case Foundation’s DC portfolio. This means I get to work closely with City Year and other such organizations. I partner with philanthropic organizations to find a saturation of new approaches to make sure that charitable giving makes the greatest possible impact. This means that I have the opportunity to work with young people like City Year corps members and other community activists all the time. It’s inspiring to be around these people, and it makes staying idealistic easy.

IH: Speaking of idealism, City Year Washington, DC's Idealism in Action Gala is coming up on Wednesday May 25th. What aspect of the gala are you most excited about?

MS: Well, of course my favorite part is watching all of Washington’s “glitterati” do PT, but what really gets me is when the corps members share their stories. I know last year there was a young woman who went above and beyond the call of duty and created an organization for the young girls in her school. She obviously cared so much for the students she worked with and put in so much effort to help them.

Then there were these two girls who couldn’t have come from more polar backgrounds—you know, one was white middle class from the Midwest and the other had come from the kind of community that you all serve in and she was a teen mother. They couldn’t see eye to eye on anything at the beginning of the year, but by the end the experience had transformed them both, and they were working together to create change. I think that story was so powerful to me because it shows how service doesn’t only change the communities and the people who you serve, but also the people who are doing the service. And sometimes that can even set them down a path of lifelong service.

Those stories are worth the ticket price!

IH: What was one of your most memorable past gala experiences?

MS: The year Steve and Jean Case were honored as the Lifetime of Idealism Honorees they decided to turn the tables because, you know, Jean really doesn’t like having the spotlight turned her way. At the time, Jean was the head of the President’s Council of Service and Civic Engagement, so she decided to honor the corps members by giving them their presidential service awards right there on stage. We had them all nicely wrapped up and framed and we got to show everyone at the gala that year how important the service is. That’s what it’s really about, you guys going out there and doing what you do.

IH: What do you think sets the Idealism in Action Gala apart from other major fundraising events?

MS: Well, I mentioned it before, but the PT. Nowhere else are you going to see all these fancy people getting up and jumping around. But really, I love how the whole event is centered around the corps members. They are the heart and soul of the event, and that’s how it really should be. Too often you go to these big charity events, and it’s the supporters being celebrated and not the people who are on the ground doing the actual work. I love that corps members are involved in every aspect of the program, that they are MC’s and make presentations and get to share their stories. That’s what makes this event so much more enjoyable than the dry events that happen around the city.

The 2011 Idealism in Action Gala will be held on May 25, 2011 at the Reagan International Trade Building.  Click Here if you are interested in attending.

No comments:

Post a Comment