About 30 people floated around on the patio of Bar Louie in Dallas. They sipped wine, beer and cocktails, handing each other contact information and muttering small business banter.
“That’s what this is all about,” one person said. “It’s about meeting people.”
This was not just a meet-and-greet aimed toward adding new names to the contact lists of those who showed up. It was a charity event put on by an East Dallas group called 100 Men Who Give a Damn.
The group meets once a quarter to hear from three nonprofit groups. Each charity sends a spokesperson to do a five-minute presentation about the cause in a Shark Tank-like forum. After all the presentations, the group members vote on which they wish to support. The charity that is chosen leaves receives a $100 check from each group member to support its cause.
Ben Lauer, the founder of the East Dallas group, greeted everyone as people flooded onto the patio. As Jesse Simmons, a 100 Men board member, passed around a sign-in sheet, the spokespeople for the charities prepared their presentations.
Patty Bates-Ballard with Dallas Academy, a school that offers programs for students with learning disabilities, introduced Jodie Spence and her son Charles. Spence spoke about her son’s difficulty learning in schools that lack the focus and attention Charles needs.
“My son Charles is quite an amazing young man, but he’s had trouble realizing it over the years,” Spence said. “He goes to school and he’s always a little different than all of the other students.”
Friends and even family members often ask Charles why he is so weird, Spence said. She always tells her son that he just absorbs the world differently than other people. Spence said she had never seen Charles more happy when coming home from school as he was after spending a day at Dallas Academy. While the school’s programs are a perfect fit for Charles, the tuition is expensive. Spence was there to ask 100 Men to help pay Charles’ way through Dallas Academy.
The charity that followed was Good Local Markets, an organization that hosts farmers markets, food stamp programs and educational programs. Casey Cutler, the group's director, said the organization is more than a farmers market.
“It’s not a trend. It’s not something that only fancy people go to,” she said. “What we do as a farmers market is we stimulate local economy.”
All of the money that goes into Good Local Markets goes to its 200 vendors. These vendors come from a 150-mile radius around Dallas to provide fresh, organic food. When people buy from local farmers markets, they know the faces behind their food, Cutler says.
“We are the only one that supports low-income communities and healthy eating,” she said. “We are not for the 1 percent that wants the expensive organics. We are for everybody.”
The last charity organization that 100 Men heard from before taking a vote was Heavenly Mimi, which helps people undergoing cancer treatment with medical and financial resources. Allison Byrd-Haley, founder and executive director, asked the group members to imagine if someone they loved was diagnosed with cancer.
“That happened to me almost 20 years ago,” she said. “I am a native Texan, and you would think I could get treatment here, and we couldn’t.”
Haley spoke about having to go all the way to Philadelphia to get the treatment for her son, who had just been diagnosed. She says people need more than financial support. They need emotional support. When Haley's family got to Philadelphia, the doctors said her son would have to go through radiation treatment and would have to keep returning to receive it.
Haley looked to charities to help finance these trips. It was a blessing, she says. Her son went into remission, and their lives were getting back on track. Influenced by the organizations that aided her, Haley started Heavenly Mi Mi.
“We help with gas cards, medical bills, medications and hotel stays,” Haley said. “I want someone to worry less and focus more on healing [and] getting better.”
As Haley ended her presentation, she handed the floor back to Lauer.
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“Now, I have to ask you to do a very difficult thing and choose between one of the three charities that we just heard from,” Lauer said.
Simmons, a board member, collected ballots as the spokespeople for each charity waited anxiously to hear the results of the vote. With all the ballots finally cast, Lauer stepped up to the mic.
“Our winner for our third ever 100 Men of East Dallas meeting is Charles and Dallas Academy,” he said. “Congratulations, we’re so happy to support you.”
As Charles danced around in celebration, people pulled out their checkbooks and began writing. When all of the checks had been collected, they totaled to $3,700 to go toward Charles' tuition at Dallas Academy. Although it will not pay all of the family's expenses, Charles is one step closer to the schooling he needs.