By Guest Blogger Liz Guthrie, Founder and Executive Director of Wish Upon a Wedding
Just a couple of years after starting my own wedding and event planning business, I decided to do something to give back – as I had often heard that if you truly want your business to succeed, you need to make it about others. That is why in 2009, I dove head first into creating and producing the San Francisco Dream Wedding Giveaway, a nationwide online contest designed to give one deserving couple a dream wedding.
My vision for who the winner would be was a couple who had faced illness, loss or hardship and was, therefore, unable to plan a wedding on their own. I began reaching out to local businesses for their help. Pretty soon it became evident how willing the wedding industry was to give back to those in need. In a very short time, I had recruited more than 40 wedding and hospitality vendors from the bay area, and was able to secure donations worth more than $100,000 for one very lucky couple.
But as the entries started to come in, I grew sad knowing only one couple would benefit from so much generosity. I wanted to give many of them the wedding they clearly deserved.
More than 350 stories of heartache, challenge and hardship continued to be sent my way during the course of the contest…the good Samaritan who spent weeks in a coma after he was struck by a car while he changed a flat tire for a total stranger; the foster child who grew up in poverty but later met her soul mate, himself the victim of child abuse; the couple from New Orleans who spent their spare time volunteering in soup kitchens, but lost everything in Hurricane Katrina; the Air Force Academy graduate who found out she had cancer the same day her boyfriend had to leave to go fight in the war overseas.
I was struggling inside knowing I could not help them all, so I decided to do something about it.
It was only during Labor Day Weekend of 2009, while my sister was visiting me at my home in San Jose, CA, that I actually started to talk out loud about this dilemma. How could I help more than ONE couple? How could I help what might be hundreds of couples who are out there and need assistance? And that is when it hit me. During one of our late night conversations, the idea to start WISH UPON A WEDDING was born.
The mission was simple: Wish Upon a Wedding would be the world’s first nonprofit organization created specifically to grant weddings and vow renewals to couples facing terminal illness or other serious life-altering circumstances.
Not long after this idea was formulated and put into words on paper, Wish Upon a Wedding took off like wild fire.
The original plan was to start five chapters the first year. We surpassed that number by quite a few, with 13 chapters launched during our first year. During the first 12 months of being a brand new nonprofit organization, I personally received and answered 28,000 emails. That is not even counting the emails and phone calls received and answered by our hard working volunteers across the country.
By the end of our second year, we had 21 active chapters, more than 200 board members, almost 8,000 Wish Granters and more than 20,000 Facebook and Twitter fans combined. (All numbers that only continue to increase over time.) To say we have grown quickly is an understatement.
Since granting our first wish in March of 2010, when Florence, a stage IV breast cancer patient, married Michael, we have granted approximately 40 weddings. Sadly, Florence has passed on, but through her spirit, Wish Upon a Wedding continues to help dozens of couples celebrate their life and love surrounded by their loved ones
The St. Louis Chapter of the organization recently helped an inspirational young couple named Lance and Tina. Shortly after meeting, Tina was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While Tina was undergoing chemo treatments, Lance was suffering from end stage renal failure and on an organ donor transplant list, awaiting a new kidney. The couple was married in a free-of-charge ceremony in 2011.
Another awesome couple helped by Wish Upon a Wedding just celebrated their one year anniversary. Nick and Robin who are both in wheelchairs due to cerebral palsy said, “I DO” in a tear-filled ceremony, courtesy of our Las Vegas Chapter, in the summer of 2011.
Tammy and Cameron were wed at Canyon Gate Country Club in Las Vegas on April 19, 2012. The couple first met at the Abilities Expo, a trade show featuring vendors who work with individuals with physical disabilities. They lived in different states, so they spent the next year and a half connecting over social media. As fate would have it, Tammy and Cameron reconnected in Las Vegas just 18 months after the Expo and began their romantic relationship. After years of growing together, their love and understanding of one another led them to tie the knot. Wish Upon a Wedding Las Vegas was proud to have granted their wedding wish.
Wish Upon a Wedding continues to grow and has plans to expand internationally in the next year or so. Please help the organization continue to serve couples like Tammy and Cameron.
Fore more information:
- To learn how you can get involved and help Wish Upon a Wedding continue to make wedding wishes come true, visit http://wishuponawedding.org/how-to-help.
- To apply for a wedding wish, visit http://wishuponawedding.org/about-our-wish/apply-for-a-wish.
- To keep up to date on Wish Upon a Wedding and the couples whose wishes have been granted, visit us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Wish Upon a Wedding’s Founder Liz Guthrie has been an event planner for nearly two decades. Her unique background includes a degree in business communications and work experience in the nonprofit sector, hotel industry, airline industry and catering management. No matter what her “day job” has been, Liz remains an avid volunteer in her community. From coaching Special Olympics to leading her daughter’s Brownie Troop, donating her time and helping others is what makes her heart truly happy.