By Kevin Goheen, Volunteer Writer
“From the first moment of meeting Hilary, I knew it was so much more than a job for them.”
It’s been more than four years since Alexis Olympia first met Hilary Wetmore, but their connection was instantaneous and lasting. Alexis Olympia and her husband, Peter, who live in Houston, had recently lost their 4-year-old son, Connor, following a 10-month battle with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). Wetmore is a regional marketing and philanthropic manager for Kendra Scott, a multimillion dollar Austin-based jewelry company that puts more than just $$ behind its mission to support women and children’s causes.
The loss of a child pains the soul like no other loss. It’s a heartache that families of children who have gained their angel wings after battling DIPG know all too well. The Olympias found more than just an ally in Wetmore and Kendra Scott.
“I knew that she and her company, Kendra Scott, were truly committed to making a difference in their community, to causes that they really cared about, and about helping us bring awareness to Connor’s story, helping us raise funds but also help us celebrate his life,” said Alexis. “It was bringing our people together, our supporters, our family, our friends to have a celebration of his life and everything he stood for. That was really special.”
When The ChadTough Foundation and Michael Mosier Defeat DIPG Foundation joined forces in January 2021 to become the ChadTough Defeat DIPG Foundation, it was the merger of organizations built by Tammi and Jason Carr of Michigan and Jenny and Michael Mosier of Maryland, respectively, that had committed more than $12 million in research funding towards DIPG. The union also created a stronger platform for Family Partners, like the Olympias and their Connor Man organization, to celebrate the lives of their heroes and continue the fight against the deadliest form of pediatric brain cancer.
The relationship between Connor Man and Kendra Scott has raised more than $35,000 in four years through their annual Kendra Gives Back event. Though the event typically has both in-person and online components, this year’s event will offer online-only shopping the weekend of September 25-26.
Kendra Scott donates 20 percent of its proceeds from “give-back” events directly to the designated organizations.
This year’s Connor Man Kendra Scott give-back event coincides with ChadTough Defeat DIPG’s annual RunTough 5K & 1M Fun Run on September 25, as well as with a local Kendra Scott give-back event being hosted at the Ann Arbor store by long-time ChadTough supporter Jennifer Steben on September 26-27.
“Kendra, our founder, created this business when she was pregnant with her first child, and she sold her first collection out of a teabox up and down South Congress (in Austin) with her baby strapped to her,” said Lacy Edmondson, director of philanthropy for Kendra Scott. “Not only did she believe in wanting to be an entrepreneur and a mother, but she also wanted to create a business that gave back. That was part of its mission. From the very beginning it’s been a business of putting our customers first, our customer is our boss, and having meaningful connections with our partners and our customers, and leading with our heart.”
“OK, WHAT CAN WE DO?”
It seems the Olympias and Kendra Scott were destined to connect. Alexis’ birthday is October 12th. In 2015, Connor went with his father to a local Kendra Scott store to buy a present for mommy. Connor passed away 17 days later.
“They were actually my first pieces from them,” recalls Alexis. “I still have them. They’re a beautiful cuff and earrings that are extremely special to me.”
Alexis’ cousin, Mia Carameros, who worked at Kendra Scott at the time as an artist in the marketing department, told her about the company’s Kendra Gives Back program. Alexis decided to reach out.
Wetmore had already heard of Connor Man and its mission, and she was also ready to reach out to help.
“One of my favorite things about working at Kendra Scott is that I get to sit down with people like Alexis and hear these stories and then say, ‘Okay, what can we do?’” says Wetmore in a video highlighting Kendra Scott’s partnership with Connor Man. “Building these connections with real people and real communities, telling real stories and then sharing them. Then, of course, being able to raise some funds and to give back, I think there are very few companies where you have that kind of privilege to be able to get up and go to work and do that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced every aspect of our lives to adjust, and charitable giving is no different. Just as ChadTough Defeat DIPG’s annual gala has shifted gears, so has the Connor Man give-back event. Though the in-person aspect has been cancelled, the online presence has been enhanced.
At the heart of each give-back event, no matter how it is presented, is the genuine connection between Kendra Scott and its partners such as Connor Man.
“Alexis said that her community, her friends and family, look forward to the event every year,” said Edmondson. “Each year is different, and each year is a new way to celebrate Connor. I think that’s unique to our brand. She’s taken something incredibly tragic and hard that happened to her, losing a child is something so unimaginable, and she’s turned it into something joyful with our brand.”
IT WAS KISMET
Jennifer Steben of Saline embraces the ChadTough Defeat DIPG motto of “What can one person do?” She has put her considerable business skills to use with the organization through multiple outlets in the past, from simply showing awareness through t-shirt wearing to helping sign up participants for RunTough to being a chairperson on committees for the gala.
While on vacation in Florida this past summer, Steben found herself in a Kendra Scott store. The store was hosting a give-back event for a local women’s shelter. The idea stuck with her. Her birthday is September 27th, one day after Chad’s and two days after this year’s RunTough event.
Steben sat down on a Saturday to write out a grant request to Kendra Scott.
“They emailed me back on Monday,” she said.
Steben knew nothing about Kendra Scott’s connection to Connor Man before she received her reply from Chandler Veich, an employee at the Ann Arbor store, but quickly became aware of how strong the relationship was already. Veich shared with Steben about Connor Man, as well as how her sorority at the University of Michigan had been involved with ChadTough through local events and the university’s athletic department.
“It was kind of kismet,” Steben said, “because we had our U of M athletics community but then we also had this other tie-in with Connor Man, so why don’t we try to leverage the power that Kendra Scott already has in giving to DIPG, and why don’t we just try to do something up here?”