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Fashion Cares

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I'd never been to a fashion show before I was asked to be the chair of one. Eight years ago, a friend of a friend asked if I'd help out some guy named Jeffrey with a nonprofit fundraiser he was planning to launch in New York. Back then, not only had I never been to a fashion show, I couldn't spell Manolo, and had never experienced a store (or a person) like Jeffrey Kalinsky. But when I heard his idea -- a fashion show fundraiser focused on bringing awareness of LGBT issues -- I knew it would be a great success.

Throughout my career on Wall Street, I've worked with a number of non-profit organizations on numerous events and fundraisers. But never one in fashion, or one where so much of the money raised goes directly to the beneficiaries.

Fast-forward eight years later, and we're now approaching $4 million raised with an average of 91% going directly to our nonprofit organizations. If you'd told me we'd be where we are today at our first committee meeting in the sewing room above the Jeffrey New York store on 14th Street, I'd have laughed till I was shaking in my 1998 Gap khakis.

Our first year, we held the show in the Jeffrey store itself. Because he couldn't very well close shop, we had to set up after 5 p.m. for the show to start at 7:30. Despite the quick turnaround, we had over 150 people attend, and a great number of Jeffrey's vendors donated to help raise almost $100,000. Since there was no cost for the space, and the models to donated their time, our only cost was production. That first year, we donated $95,000 of the $100,000 we raised -- a model that we would carry forward.

Each year after that, we grew, adding more sponsors whose names I generally couldn't spell. Names like Miu Miu, Dolce & Gabbana, Christian Louboutin and even Balenciaga. Thank God we also got support from companies like Coach, Prada and W. Our second year, we moved to the MILK Gallery, and had almost 300 people, with an overwhelming number of fashion sponsors and even celebrity attendance like Diane von Furstenberg and Andre from Vogue.

By the time we decided to add a third nonprofit beneficiary in our fourth year, the MILK Gallery was too small to hold us. We moved uptown to Espace, and promptly hit capacity with over 800 people. Our current home is the USS Intrepid, once again breaking records last year with over 1,200 attendees and $510,000 raised.

With the growth of the event, we've continued to expand our reach into the community. Initially, we supported the Hetrick Martin Institute, for its important work with LGBT youth and Lambda Legal, because they fight for LGBT civil rights. We added Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) in 2005,to support its life-saving efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In 2008, we were personally devastated by the story of a young boy, Lawrence King, who was shot in the face in his classroom, by a fellow classmate, because he was perceived to be gay. We created the Jeffrey Fashion Cares Lawrence King Point Scholarship, at the Point Foundation, to send one youth to college, and to keep the memory of Lawrence alive.

One of the most emotional moments on this journey for me personally, was when I got to have lunch with Kyle, the young man we are sending to college, and to hear his story. Kyle was kicked out and cut off from his family for being gay. He finished high school by couch surfing at friends' houses. Our funding allowed him to stop "living out of a garbage bag" as he put it, and go to college, where he is on the Dean's list.

This year we are excited to welcome the Palette Fund as the first-ever Diamond Sponsor of the event, granting us $100,000, which is the total we raised in our first year. It's all happening on March 28, 2011 at the U.S.S. Intrepid Museum.

While our event is everything you'd expect -- international male models, celebrities, great Belvedere drinks, amazing auction packages you can't get anywhere else -- to me, it's about the impact we are making. From making sure HIV+ folks have the best medical care they can, to helping amazing young people through high school and supporting them in college, Jeffrey Fashion Cares will ensure that the $4 million we've raised is just the beginning. And as for me -- I spelled Prada right didn't I? And now I even have a pair of their shoes.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.jeffreyfashioncares.org. Jeffrey Fashion Cares will take place on March 28, 2011 on the U.S.S. Intrepid at 46th Street and the West Side Highway. All proceeds benefit Lambda Legal, GMHC, the Hetrick Martin Institute and the Point Foundation.