Have you ever rewritten the same sentences over some 4,000 times when trying to catch the essence of an hour, only to emerge with vague garble along the lines of, “You should have been there. It was great. Just great.”
That’s how it has been for me this week. Journalism provides rock-solid formulas for covering nonprofit events which “go by the book.” Want an article about a company aiding a cause purely for media exposure? There’s a formula for that. Need to cover a trendy nonprofit organization more interested in promoting internal laurels than the cause they claim to serve? There’s a cut-and-dry formula for that, too.
It’s when company leaders go above and beyond in demonstrating their soulful sincerity, and a non-profit’s volunteers seem to blaze the room with conviction for their cause, that formulas go out the window. A “simple” article is no longer an easy venture.
Such is the situation I find myself in nearly one week after attending Sip and Shop, the Little Black Dress Society event generously hosted by boutique J. McLaughlin in Alamo Heights last Thursday. To a passerby, we might have looked like a group gathered for a party. But it was more. J. McLaughlin’s shelves of cheery, travel-ready clothing, tantalizing door prizes and a platter of homemade snickerdoodles proved a stark contrast to the cause that united everyone present: serving victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
The gathering did not feel structured, nor contrived. Instead, following Little Black Dress Society founder Amanda Graybill’s introduction to the cause and present initiatives on hand, individuals stepped up to the plate and volunteered their experiences, insights, and time.
“The number one thing I hear from the women we work with is ‘I feel so alone,’” Graybill explained. “We must help victims know that they are not alone. Second, we must let them know that we are there for them.”
These words were more than a mission statement. Within days, the organization would help a survivor of domestic violence and her young daughter move into their own apartment after years of struggle, yet Graybill also facilitates ongoing initiatives on a larger scale. Last October, six survivors of domestic violence were honored by the Little Black Dress Society. At a benefit this autumn, it is the organization’s hope that these ladies will in turn be mentors, passing their wisdom forward. Between now and that day, the dynamite organization will grow busier than ever, with help from leaders like Salon Professional Academy admissions director Suzette Thomas who step up to the plate.
Thomas’ pride in her students resonated in her voice, and she had every reason to be proud. The Salon Professional Academy is one of the most highly-ranked beauty schools in the nation, but as Thomas said, “If we only teach our students about hair, we are failing them. They must learn about this, too.”
In September, the Academy will host their largest charity benefit to date, and donate all proceeds to the Little Black Dress Society. She is sure that through serving victims of sexual abuse, her students will be better equipped to tackle obstacles in their lives ahead. “Every morning, I wake up looking forward to the morning after that. You have to have passion, and I have passion for helping my students.”
Discussion also turned to the painful pervasiveness of sexual violence in society today. As first-time Little Black Dress Society attendee and personal development coach Elizabeth Garland summed up, “As Americans, we don’t know how to grieve properly.
At the end of the evening, I was able to speak with two extraordinary women—J. McLaughlin store manager Jacy Grantham and assistant manager Erin Bell—about how the Sip and Shop event came to be.
It turns out that Grantham first learned about the Little Black Dress Society through the grapevine—a fellow mom at her daughter’s school. She quickly gained approval from her superiors to set up a J. McLaughlin booth at the spring charity fashion show, donate all proceeds to the Little Black Dress Society, and was more than willing to host the summer Sip and Shop event, provide a special gift for a survivor, door prizes, and this time, donate 15% of all sales proceeds for the entire day to the Little Black Dress Society.
For Grantham, the matter was simple. She wanted to help in any way possible—and her boss at J. McLaughlin felt the same way.
“From woman to woman, giving back is important,” said Grantham. “As women, we’re leaders, we’re strong, and need to help one another be strong.”
J. McLaughlin was founded in New York by two brothers in 1977, and today continues to encourage a community-oriented work culture among over 100 branches nation-wide. For J. McLaughlin, rapid expansion and meaningful community involvement go hand-in-hand—yet Grantham’s Alamo Heights-based San Antonio branch has already surpassed the company’s high bar. Especially for a boutique which has only been in San Antonio since last February, the boutique has been instrumental in aiding local causes which range from domestic violence to animal welfare. Best of all, Grantham is not alone in her attitude. The community-centric attitude spans all levels company-wide.
“J. McLaughlin wants to give back to the community in San Antonio,” said assistant manager Erin Bell. “That’s what our superiors always tell us: give back, give back, give back.”
It’s not about what a wardrobe costs,” Grantham added. “It’s about who you are as a person.”
What better insight for an organization built around a little black dress as a symbol of grace and self-love?
So there we were, a small yet motivated gathering of ladies and one gentleman, all of whom had either been affected—or known a loved one who had been affected—by sexual abuse or domestic violence. We might have marveled over cookies and playfully tried on a few of the clothes. But ultimately, we were united by a determination to help those whose lives had been forcibly robbed of their beauty. Together—survivors, allies, advocates, and friends—we will help this movement grow.