“The best one you’ve done yet!”
If I had a pledge card for every woman who said that to me after our event with Brooke Shields last month.
Each year, we invite a dynamic, accomplished, not-often-heard-from-but-pretty-well-known woman to speak at our big fall Women United in Philanthropy membership event. (Note: not a fund-raiser. It’s maybe the only non-fundraiser event with a top notch speaker you’ll get invited to all year!)
We do it for two reasons: 1). We have to have a meeting so the members can come together to vote on our annual grant; and 2). We want to get to know other women who might be interested in joining the circle, and no one would come if it was just to meet us!
This year, our speaker was Brooke Shields and she knocked it out of the park, in so many unexpected ways.The minute she walked into the room, I knew this wasn’t going to be like our other evenings. Usually, I’m really nervous about providing the proper green room experience, or protecting a speaker from fans wanting to take selfies. But Brooke entered the room carrying an over-sized martini glass we’d place on our registration desk for the purpose of collecting business cards. She was ready to join a party. She jumped in front for our group photo, looked from left to right, and promptly squatted her 6-foot frame for the next ten minutes and became one of the girls.
Having lived in Bergen County for some of her school-aged years, her appearance seemed more like a homecoming than a speaking gig. Women with whom she’d attended Dwight-Englewood School came rushing to see her, and she threw back her head with roaring laughter and delight at being together with them.
It was Brooke’s idea to scrap the canned speaker-speech and replace it with a one-on-one, ask-your-questions format which, in her words, “is a much more intimate way for everyone to be part of it.” She was right. Sitting at a high-top table in front of an audience of 240 women, with our guest moderator and journalist Marie DeNoia Aronsohn, Brooke told stories of what life has been like for her, growing up in front of a camera, often the focal point of public controversy, and as the only child of a single mother who’s alcoholism and lifestyle defined how she lived for so long. She was at once charming, comical, and heartbreaking. All of us fell out laughing at her stories about early auditions and her famous exchange with Tom Cruise, and we were moved to tears as she spoke of her love for her mom and her reliance on her girlfriends–including those in the room–who helped her through difficult times and have always loved her.
We never know when we ask someone to speak to at a WUIP event if they will resonate, or connect, or share something that moves us to appreciate our lives, live more boldly or give of ourselves more completely. But somehow, it always seems to happen. I think its one of the wonderful things about our group. We seem to draw remarkable women from all walks of life. We come together, inspired by our commitment to creating solutions to the problems that face women in our community through our own philanthropic investment, but we end up leaving this event each year feeling as we are the true beneficiaries. I guess, the truth is, we are.
Brooke Shields is the first speaker to ever waive a speaking fee for Women United in Philanthropy. She did it because someone she loves asked her to do this.
Just one big circle of women, showing up to help one another. It may have been our best night ever.