Today we begin Charity week. There’s no shortage of good causes in the world (sadly). We wish we could feature each and every one of them, but of course, we can’t. We selected a couple of charities that you may or may not have heard of. Typically, we think of big name charities when making donations or attending events or walks. But not all charity work comes from a well-known name. We, as individuals, have the power to make a difference. Today, we’re talking to Melanie and Dean about the Jam for Jeff, a fundraising event inspired by the untimely and sudden loss of a friend. This last Saturday marked the fifth annual J4J. Read on to see how it started, why it started, and how we can all make a difference in this world.
The two of you started up an annual fundraiser, Jam for Jeff, five years ago. Can you tell me what it is and why it started?
DEAN: “Jeff and I go back to elementary school and he worked for my family business. He loved music, so when the dust settled after his sudden death of a heart attack at 39, I wanted to honor him with a concert in his memory.”
MELANIE: “Jeff and I were high school friends and before his passing, Facebook acquaintances. When the original venue backed out, I stepped in to help find a new venue. Christian Sweeney was completely accommodating, so Sweeney’s Saloon has hosted us for all 5 events. I was honored to work alongside Dean to honor someone Dean loves so much.”
Where do the funds you collect go?
MELANIE: “We’ve donated to Variety (the children’s charity), Devereux New Jersey, Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Academy and Do It For The Love. The first 3 work with people with all types of spectrum disorders. DIFTL helps people with life threatening illnesses go to the concert of their dreams and, when possible, meet the artists.”
How did/do you decide on which charities to donate the money to?
DEAN: “He (Jeff) didn’t have kids, but he has a nephew that he loved named Noah with Autism. So, initially it seemed fitting to raise money benefitting folks with challenges related to autism and spectrum disorders.”
Since then, charities have varied. How did you decide on any of the others?
DEAN: “I attended a Michael Franti concert and he was telling the audience about his foundation, “Do it for the love”. His heartfelt description of what they do really impressed, and kind of affected me emotionally at the show.”
How have you raised the money for those charities?
MELANIE: “Raising money has been humbling with the group of friends we have. Dean, his band, and our musician friends perform. Our friends, coworkers, and families donate items for raffle or auction and also their time to help set up, sell tickets, and keep the show moving.”
What has the response been in the years since you began the Jam for Jeff?
MELANIE: “Jam for Jeff is an event people seem to not want to miss! It’s in memory of an honorable man and for tremendously worthy causes. I mean, with phenomenal music by Jah People, Brodi Valos, Red Letter Life, Chowder, and Honeyjuice, how could you NOT want to be there!? Plus, there’s always great prizes!”
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to possibly head up their own fundraiser?
MELANIE: “Fundraising is so special when the cause is close to one’s heart. Pick a charity. Find good talent and a date that works. Find a venue. The rest is putting out the word, begging for donations, and a good amount of time behind the scenes making phone calls, writing emails and letters, surfing the net for info and pictures and lots of shopping and paperwork! My advice is dig in and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s a huge task and input from others always gives you perspective.”
I know there’s a lot of work involved in throwing this event. What has it done for each of you?
MELANIE: “First, doing these benefits has strengthened my relationship with Dean. He is one of my best friends. Working with him to raise money and honor Jeff is an honor and a privilege. Dean and I share a bond of selflessness that we feed with our work. I love him and am so proud to be Co-host of Jam for Jeff.
(Also) doing charity work helped me to win a scholarship for my final 2 semesters at Arcadia University in 2013 and 2014. It’s definitely not easy to be a completely single parent, work full-time, run a business on the side, attend college classes and plan an annual charity event. I spread myself quite thin back then, but the rewards are immeasurable. My son is so proud of me. Organizing Jam for Jeff has helped me to teach him how to get involved and give back. It’s a great feeling to know that we’re making a difference in the lives of people who deserve to be recognized, celebrated and admired.”
DEAN: “Mainly, being able to keep Jeff’s memory alive has given me a lot of satisfaction. Also, it feels very satisfying to know that after five years, we have definitely put smiles on the faces of some special, deserving people.
There are plans in the works to morph into something much bigger next year and beyond. Hopefully, we can finalize details fairly soon… With a big announcement to follow.”