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Mercy Corps fundraiser: Behind the scenes of "Songs for Haiti"

Haiti, January 22, 2010

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Tim Joyce

January, 2010

Portland, ORE- I am very humbled by what I’ve witnessed at the Aladdin Theatre in southeast Portland as co-MC of a phenomenal event. The amazing work of Mercy Corps, one of the first relief organizations on the ground in earthquake torn Haiti—was the beneficiary of the fundraiser.

I will offer this disclaimer that I did not take notes during the performance—so I apologize in advance if I inadvertently leave someone out of my recollection of the whirlwind of events and breathtaking generosity this evening.

For me, the event started behind the scenes in the cozy offices of the Aladdin Theatre along SE Milwaukie Avenue, going over some bullet “talking points” with organizer Stephen Marc Beaudoin. Myself, and my talented co-host Oregonian columnist, Margie Boule took copious notes on the five pages of notes for us to (mostly) memorize to make conversation for the already sold out house of more than 650 people. To be perfectly honest, I am most used to talking to groups of 25-30 elementary school kids about the weather and science. I felt, at first, most certainly out of my element.

The night on the stage started with a dimly lit intimate venue with Thomas Lauderdale on the piano and the incredible vocals of China Forbes belting out the national anthem of Haiti to bring focus to what all brought us here together. It gave me the courage to swallow, breathe—and walk onto that stage with Margie and give whatever I had to give.

Thomas mentioned backstage that if you didn’t like what you heard on the stage at that moment, wait ten minutes—because soon you would hear something completely different. And that’s exactly what I shared what the audience—because it was an eclectic show the likes I’ve never quite seen on any stage in Portland. From choir groups to hip hop—the performances grew on top of one another. From jazzy gospel sung by a Grammy award winning Janice Scroggins to some Oregon symphonic violin and piano (courtesy of Jun Iwasaki and his talented wife Grace Fong-Iwasaki).

The fundraising goal originally was 25 thousand dollars-- a noble and noteworthy amount. With generous matching dollars from the Ray Hickey Foundation, we were able to announce that generously donated dollars would go even further to help those in need.

After the first act of the second half, the organizer went through the numbers. We announced that with the door, concessions, and contributions thus far—we had raising a very admirable 27 thousand dollars. I asked, in jest actually, if anyone could write us a check for 23 thousand dollars. One hand went up in the center section, halfway toward the back. A very humble man who didn’t want recognition, per se. I found out afterwards chatting with and thanking the man over a beer—that his son is currently in Haiti until the end of this week with Medical Teams NW. A representative from the Hickey Foundation approached the stage-- they said they'd match all monies raised during the evening. Which resulted in thunderous applause.

Hands kept coming up for incredible and heartfelt donations. 100 dollars, 500 dollars, 1000 dollars, even 5000 dollars. According to the organizers, all-in-all they raised in excess of 150 thousand dollars.

Grocery store chain New Seasons also announced that they will match donations that customers make at the check-out line to relief efforts in Haiti in the next two weeks as well to add to the already impressive generosity of the evening.

In interviewing Broadway musical theatre performer earlier in the afternoon, Douglas Webster, he said he was very impressed with his new adopted hometown. “Portland has more talent than rain,” he said. “My wife and I have travelled all over the country the level of artistry is high, the fact that one of us can make a phone call and then that person makes another phone call and we [the artistic community] show up. And that’s pretty much it for Portland. Portland shows up.”

And they show up with their checkbooks in hand and hearts on their sleeve. I chatted with Mercy Corps’ education director Julie Kohler backstage. While she wasn’t sure of exact numbers, she seemed confident that this event might very well be the largest single fundraising event for the Portland-based non-profit at their home base of operations.

The night was capped off by a performance from Stumptown’s own Storm Large. She came out to taunt us during her own introduction. A close friend of my co-host, Margie Boule, the two were chatting and taunting one another backstage. I shared with the audience jovially that there was almost a cat-fight between the two behind the scenes—and that I, “put 20 bucks on the tall one.” Apologizing, jokingly “hey, it’s for a good cause.”

A rendition of “Amazing Grace” was the finale with some incredible vocal talent (and I am not counting myself in that category by any stretch of the imagination) –offered a finish to the night with many teary eyes in the house. The choral groups from earlier in the evening marched down the aisles getting everyone to join in. Six days ago this was just an idea organizer Stephen Marc Beaudoin’s head. This night, we helped save lives and helped people we’ve never met: being rebuilding their lives, their families and their country. The manager at the Aladdin Theatre said to the crowd that in his 15 years there—he’s never seen anything quite like it at that venue.

Thanks to all the organizers, the staff at the Aladdin who donated their time, the performers, and every person in the audience who helped make a difference. All of you are why this is such a magnificent city that I am proud to call home.