Laurie Strongin’s son died in 2002 at age 7 of a rare disease. She shares the story of her son about 10 times a month with businesspeople and organizations to solicit support for the Hope for Henry Foundation, which she created to provide gifts and entertainment for children recovering from diseases.
Strongin recently found a receptive audience at Care to Lunch, a bimonthly networking lunch series that spotlights little-known nonprofits in the region.
“I’ve not attended a lunch like this with such a unique group of businesspeople who care so much to make a difference,” Strongin said. “One called me an hour later looking to help.”
That’s exactly what Nina Un, 36, envisioned when she created the group two years ago.
Lunch series participants pay $35 for lunch, which more than covers a discounted three-course meal at Shula’s in Vienna. Proceeds are donated to the charity. The series, which has not been incorporated as a nonprofit, has raised about $2,000 for eight charities.
“It’s not just about the dollars,” said Un, an investment consultant. “The nonprofits usually get new volunteers and members.”
During her eight years as a stay-at-home mom of two boys, Un remained connected with charity circles. She helped start a campaign with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and volunteered at schools. But it wasn’t until she planned a 2010 fundraising luncheon for a breast cancer support organization, the Tigerlily Foundation, that the light bulb went off.
“We were sitting in Panache planning this luncheon and I thought, ‘Hey I could do this on a monthly basis,’ ” Un said. So she gathered a group of friends and planned the first lunch benefitting the Pajama Program, which provides bed clothes and books for children seeking adoption.
Leona Chan, co-owner of Kiran Realty and Property Management in Tysons Corner, said she has attended every luncheon since the beginning.
“Nina really screens and evaluates the organizations,” said Chan. “It’s like someone doing their homework for you.”
To select nonprofits, Un uses the Catalogue for Philanthropy, Charity Navigator and charity blogs. In other cases, such as the Hope for Henry Foundation, organizations are referred by colleagues, then Un interviews their leaders.
It was Strongin’s story that sealed the deal.
“It resonated with me so much because I’m a mom and I couldn’t imagine ... pulling myself from the death of a child and [to] still have the will power and strength to create a foundation,” Un said.
Strongin has won the support from Georgetown Cupcake, J.Crew and Neiman Marcus.
Still, she said, Care to Lunch is special.
“Losses are so profound, and one of the realities is that you still want to spend time with your child,” Strongin said. “So I look at a lunch like this as an opportunity to continue to parent Henry.”