You may have noticed that Model Behaviors is a-flutter with all things Friscovania, so naturally when we were thinking of who we could ask to be Woman of the Month, we hoped it would be someone involved with the event. Fortunately, we not only got someone who’s involved with Friscovania but she’s also a big part of City House!
All the proceeds from Friscovania will go to this amazing nonprofit whose mission is to provide emergency shelter and transitional residential services to at-risk youth who are in need due to abuse, neglect, or homelessness. I’m so grateful that we have this opportunity to talk to Chey Reynolds, Director of Marketing and Development for City House, about moving from the corporate world to nonprofit work, planning events like Friscovania, and tons of incredible life stories.
Chey is the type of woman who moves and speaks with great energy and intention. I get the feeling that every decision she makes has been weighed both logically and intuitively within her mind and heart before she acts on them. She shared a story that demonstrates this perfectly. When she was young, she lived in Europe and was involved with the fashion world there. She believed her path in life was set and that she’d never want to leave the fashion world. She came back to the States to visit, fully intending to return to her life in Europe, but instead, she fell in love, got married, and stayed in the US, completely turning her life on its head. She bravely followed her gut, and instead of staying on the path she’d set out for herself, she welcomed the new adventure with open arms.
Please enjoy Courtney’s interview with our October Woman of the Month, Chey Reynolds!
MB: Quick, fun question to start us off… will you be dressing up for Friscovania, and if so, what or who are you going to dress up as?
CR: I must say there’s nothing more fun than the perfect occasion to dress up. First thing that came to mind is borrowing one of the exquisite Venetian masks that my friend Stefano (Visions of Venice) imports from Italy. They are incredible creations that stand on their own. Might be something mysterious and conspicuously dark, maybe a little Goth.
MB: My costume has a mask as well! I’m going as Helene Aquilla from An Ember in the Ashes, which is this amazing fantasy novel by Sabaa Tahir. I’m hoping there are a few fellow fangirls and fanboys out there who will recognize me, but oh well if not because my getup is gonna be fierce. I’m so excited to see all the costumes at the event. I hope people really bring their A-game for the contest, especially because we have some awesome celebrity judges who will be awarding equally awesome prizes!
On the City House website, your official title is Director of Marketing and Development. What is your specific role within this amazing organization? And how did you first get involved?
CR: I was introduced to City House in 2011, when their previous executive director, a former colleague of mine, asked if I could find time to help them with their annual fundraising gala that was a month or two out.
At the time, I was managing all sponsorships, events, and marketing promotions for the Verizon spinoff, SuperMedia. I’d been fantasizing for a few years how awesome it would be to leave corporate altogether and transition my brand engagement and marketing expertise to a cause-related space. Needless to say, I was more than happy to volunteer my time to help City House for that event, and did so again in 2012. I officially took on the role as their marketing and fundraiser director in the spring of 2013.
One thing for sure that I learned working in the nonprofit sector is that titles may be specific, but the responsibilities are always blurred and varied. Overall, I develop our marketing and fundraising strategy that’s always as dynamic as it’s driven by the daily needs of the children and older youth in our care. We are a tiny organization administratively, and I only have a community manager, Karen Voelker, who supports our business and community outreach and expertly manages our donor database. In addition to overseeing those relations, I also develop and manage all our marketing communications, branding, social media, website design, and content, media, and fundraising events.
MB: Phew! Sounds like you have a ton of stuff going on. Model Behaviors couldn’t be more thrilled that all the proceeds from Friscovania will go to such a deserving local nonprofit. This event really feels like a huge community effort. I know this isn’t your first big event to put together, so what are some of the challenges that come with an event like this? And ultimately, what are some of the most rewarding aspects?
CR: Friscovania is truly one of the most unique, exciting, and out-of-the-box events that our agency has ever been involved with. It just hits home on so many levels. Halloween is by far one of the greatest days of childhood, so much so that as adults we have refused to give it up. Personally, it kind of brings things full circle. I started my career in the fashion industry, and often miss all the creative and resourceful people I worked with, and how nothing was ever conventional or too outrageous. So, when we met with Toni, and she laid out her vision for this incredible partnership with FC Dallas and the fashion community, which would not only benefit our mission, but also honor Kelly Whaley, who lost her battle with cancer this year, leaving behind a precious little boy, we were all in.
As with all events, there are challenges. At the end of the day it’s about participation and engagement. I wish I could say there is only one objective. Instead there are three, and every one of them comes with its own challenge.
First, we need to drive awareness of the event that results in attendance. Second, we have to deliver on the experience, and third, we want attendees to walk away owning a piece of our mission and recognizing how our host, FC Dallas, has connected with the community. To this end, we are aggressively promoting through social media, pushing out communications to over 5,000 supporters, and will engage broadcast partners in the next week. Over 100 passionate City House volunteers will work closely with event production to flawlessly execute this first-time event.
MB: I got thrills reading that. And also a bit of nervous stomach. But then thrills again because we have incredibly experienced and driven people like you working on this. I believe in Friscovania and in its power to touch people’s hearts the way Kelly did with everyone she knew.
You and I got to speak on the phone for a few minutes, and I noticed that any time you talked about your work with City House, there was a very intense resonance to your voice. What does it mean for you on a personal level to be part of the City House mission?
CR: I know, I do sound intense. My entire life, I’ve stood up for those without a voice. I was a bit of a hippie chick and grew up wanting to save the world. I’m a huge animal welfare activist and have been involved in rescuing and rehoming Thoroughbred racehorses and dogs for a good portion of my life.
At City House, I see children and young adults every day who come into our care escaping abuse, neglect, or homelessness. My job is to raise the money that pays for their shelter, clothing, therapy, enrichment programs, medical bills, and every other possible expense that exists to provide a soft landing. It’s hard to get over their circumstances and it just rocks me to my core that these kids end up in this situation. In reality, once they are with us, they are pretty happy here. They have plenty to eat and are surrounded by people who are kind and only interested in their welfare. But my heart still breaks knowing the majority of our kids and teenagers have been abused, and have whack jobs for parents.
Equally disturbing is that we have many older LGBTQ youth who’ve been kicked out of their homes because their parents are not willing to understand and accept their child’s orientation and support them. Instead they humiliate, demean, and force these kids to leave home. These youths question their identity rather than embrace it, and they’re so troubled and distraught by the time they come into our program. Our counseling focuses on building self-esteem and providing assurance that they are awesome people with incredible gifts, and that we are here to help them with their journey toward independence. The intensity in my voice comes from the frustration and utter disdain I have for those who were responsible for scarring and crippling these kids emotionally.
MB: Wow. There are no words. I’m so happy there’s a place like City House for them. Not every city has that, and you guys are truly doing life-changing work.
Something else you told me on the phone that absolutely blew me away is that City House only has about fifty people on staff but it boasts over two thousand volunteers, all of whom are required to undergo some pretty rigorous training. To me, that speaks volumes about the incredible work City House is doing for Collin County.
Honestly, it astounds me. I used to volunteer with an organization in Austin called SAFE, whose mission is to end domestic violence and abuse. Much like City House, the work is not always easy on the heart. One of the biggest things they taught us in our training was that self-care was absolutely necessary in order to make volunteering a sustainable endeavor. In our talk, you mentioned needing to sit in your car for a few minutes after visiting the City House shelter in order to process your emotions. In this type of work, what does self-care look like for you?
CR: One thing for sure, City House would not exist if not for our volunteers. Our emergency shelter is named My Friend’s House (a kinder, gentler reference for our kids when asked where they live), and is a licensed facility for newborns to seventeen-year-olds. It operates 24/7 and requires many people and hours to keep it going. It’s also a dynamic space because we never know how many kids we will have on any given day. The majority of our shelter children come to us through Child Protective Services (CPS), the judicial system, or are runaway and homeless youth. Our transitional living homes assist young adults eighteen to twenty-one, many who’ve aged out of foster care or are homeless. Each age group comes with its own unique issues, circumstances, and needs. You can only imagine the resources that are required to administer our services.
To put it into perspective, we have nearly 2,000 volunteers, of which almost 1,000 donate their time toward direct childcare and support functions, another 1000 toward events and every other conceivable assistance that the agency needs to maintain the shelter and houses. They keep our 24/7/365 operations seamless. We would never be able to do what we do and have a fully paid staff. These volunteers are the heart of this agency. Our volunteer orientation is roughly three hours long, requires a TB test, and includes an extensive background check. If the volunteer is interested and qualified to work directly with children, then they’re given even more intensive training required by the state. I encourage readers to look at our website to see the breadth of opportunities, regardless of how much time one might be able to donate. The extent of our needs is mind-boggling, but it’s such rewarding work.
Having said all that, yes, I do sometimes sit in my car after visiting the shelter to shed a few tears. Especially because these kids look so happy playing. You’d think it was the greatest daycare center in the world. I let myself go to the dark place of “what will happen to them?” when they leave us, wondering if they’ll be safe and loved.
My self-care is and always has been being around animals. I’ve been an avid equestrian since I was six years old. I’ve had a hiatus here and there over the last fifty-six years, but I always return to the sport. I’ve been rescuing and rehoming racehorses for nearly thirty years. There’s nothing I love more than just spending downtime with my dogs, and supporting my other favorite charity, Becky’s Hope Horse Rescue, that’s in Frisco off 121 and Independence.
The founder, Sue Chapman, rescues horses from the kill pen. These are horse auctions where meat buyers go to bid on horses for slaughter. It’s also where the majority of racehorses end up when they’re not able to earn their keep. Sue routinely outbids the meat buyers and brings these sweet souls to her sanctuary where they are rehabilitated, often adopted, or remain to live out their years. She has her share of goats and pigs and every other possible abandoned creature known to man. I go out there in my work clothes to kiss noses, feed goats, talk to pigs, and get my fix of now-happy animals that have found their forever happy place. All in all, I’m glad the “it’s all about me years” didn’t last too long and I was able to rechannel that vaporous energy toward helping others.
MB: Currently Googling “horse rescue in Austin” because I think I need some of that self-care in my life, too! When you shared the brief rundown of your life story, one of the big things I gravitated toward and connected with was that when push came to shove, you always listened to your heart and did what felt right for you and your life. I so admire this quality, in women especially, because it takes a monumental amount of courage to leave a job, end a relationship, pursue a dream, speak your mind, and basically eschew the safety net and dive headfirst into the unknown. You seem to have done this quite a bit in your life. How did you push past the doubt each time and choose risk over the safe bet?
CR: I would like to think my generation of Baby Boomer women who pushed the envelope on opening doors and invading some male-dominated territory has better illuminated the path to success for the generation behind us. I can tell you with some confidence that the only safety net we might have had is the one our parents provided and the one you unknowingly provide yourself through choices—good, bad, and indifferent. I cannot stress enough to my younger friends the value that exists in measuring your agitation (in a good way), and going with your instincts.
Although I loved my first husband, our relationship was stifling. I was then, as I am now, a self-professed free spirit. Therefore, I will always be open to my calling. My best advice is to get in touch with who you think you are, at your core. Let that be your platform, because that is your safety net or home base. Go out and do. Experiment and experience. Lose some, win some, grow some, retreat, reflect, advance; it’s enriching and empowering, and the sense of accomplishment and control can be intoxicating.
MB: That is absolutely beautiful. I want that in calligraphy on my wall so I can read it every morning and be inspired. What’s your best piece of advice for any woman who’s struggling to make similar types of life-altering decisions?
CR: As a pretty independent teenager of the ’60s, I can assure you I behaved more out of stupidity. I was kind of a spoiled rich kid with an eye on the underserved, someone who always gravitated toward those who were less fortunate, and greatly “participated” in the counterculture of the times.
I was the youngest of six with a sister twenty years older. My other siblings were out on their own when I made my appearance. By the time I was fourteen, I was a parent’s worst nightmare. I was crazy about rock music and already gravitating toward bands of the era. I was more behaviorally high-risk than a risk-taker, if that makes sense. This pattern saw me through a few “not optional” private schools, four days at Woodstock, and a few years of living in Europe attending fashion design school and partying in its great cities. Obviously, I survived the gallivanting, saw much, did lots, and met more inspiring people from all walks of life in that short time than most would in a lifetime. I came back to the States without a vision of who or what I wanted to be. But, I did come back with some incredible experiences and street smarts, and was always game for a new opportunity.
I have, for most of my life, responded to adventure, I still do. I need to caveat this by saying that although married, divorced, and now remarried, I did not have children. So it’s much easier for someone like myself to be a bit mercurial and able to dabble in the unknown from a career perspective. There have been what, at the time, I might have labeled missteps—well, lots of them—yet each of them was character building, and a lesson in what I’m either good at or not good at. So I came to realize, there are really no missteps in the journey, just time spent in self-discovery, course correction, and bringing the lessons learned to the next thing.
My career has taken me from fashion, to magazine publishing, to advertising and marketing in the corporate world, to moonlighting for an entertainment agency producing events for the private sector, to being able to use all these skills and life experiences to do the work I do today for City House and other charity organizations. After many wins and many flops throughout my life, I realized it really wasn’t about risk-taking after all. Rather, it has always been about not fearing the opportunities.
MB: I’m picturing you dropping the mic because that was powerful. I needed to hear that. Outside of your work with City House, you also do work for a company called BookingEntertainment, which sounds super fun and interesting. Can you share a little bit about what you do?
CR: I’ve been working with BookingEntertainment for a number of years. I became acquainted with the company back in 2003 while with Verizon. I was producing many client and consumer engagement events where I had to hire celebrities and recording artists.
I loved creating celebrity experiences. I worked with our Verizon spokesperson, James Earl Jones, and arranged several events with him, including book readings in Central Park in conjunction with our corporate literacy program for underserved kids, and bringing him to Dallas Mavericks games and Tampa Rays games where, rather than singing, he recited our National Anthem. For those of you who know him, he is the voice. We also did some smaller, intimate dinners with him, along with our top clients. What always stood out for me is that we were delivering a once-in-a-lifetime experience to people, one that they could not necessarily orchestrate on their own.
My work with BookingEntertainment started when I produced two fundraising events for the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum. One event with Gap Band, and the other honoring the last of living blues legends. They’re an incredible company, and after putting these shows together, I started working for them when time would permit. My role is to front the artists’ arrivals, make sure they are settled, ensure gear, production, sound, lighting, and stage design and plotting is perfect, the rider is fulfilled (a rider is a list of things the artist requests and/or demands in order to participate in the production), transportation is managed from wheels up to wheels down, and most importantly, that the client and their guests have the most incredible experience without lifting a finger.
MB: Well dang, that sounds amazing! It seems like having this job might provide a little bit of balance with the emotionally challenging work you sometimes have to do with City House. What sort of joy and fulfillment do you get from your Booking Entertainment position?
CR: It’s a total reality check out and I love bringing incredible performers to private events. From Stevie Nicks, Kool & The Gang, the Beach Boys, Bob Marley’s old band the Wailers, to Don Henley, it’s an endless list of great bands and events.
MB: So cool! Maybe you don’t want me bringing this up, but I think it’s an interesting topic that’s been getting a lot of buzz lately, so here goes! When we first chatted about you being our Woman of the Month, you were extremely hesitant. You told me there were other people who deserved this more and that you felt guilty for taking the spot. I staunchly rebutted this claim, of course, because you’re amazing and you have incredible stories to share with the world! But as you were trying to back out of this, I was silently shaking my head because so many of the women Toni’s asked to be Women of the Month have voiced similar concerns, stating that they feel undeserving or that they won’t live up to the “hype.” Why do you think it’s so difficult for you—and for women in general—to accept recognition and praise?
CR: I could go on and on as to why women are reluctant to embrace praise and recognition. One is because we all do a million things at once. For a lot of women, it’s in our DNA to try and do the right thing, striving to leave a positive footprint. This is what we do, mostly not knowing that we’re even doing it. So being recognized for it makes us feel uncomfortable. I know people who have worked harder, been more successful, and thus are more deserving. Personally, as I’ve aged, I’m much more about staying in the back of the room. In my case I’ve always loved collaborating with others to create and execute incredible work and experiences, and then take great pleasure in quietly watching it unfold. In my opinion, our resistance to praise is grounded in humility, and any work worth recognizing generally is the result of a body of contributors, not just one individual.
MB: I’m thinking about friends of mine in high-power careers (lawyers, vets) and the discussions we’ve had about this. My generation of millennials is coming to this place where we’re like, “I deserve to be recognized damn it! I’m tired of dudes taking all the credit!” At the same time, I’m with you on the humility thing. It feels so weird and a bit icky to toot my own horn. So with that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and proclaim that you are awesome and deserve all sorts of praise and recognition. You totally deserve to be Woman of the Month, and we are super pumped to have you on Model Behaviors this month. And I’m sure there are dozens of amazing people you work with who deserve equal amounts of praise and recognition, too, so praise and recognition for all the fantastic people at City House!
To finish this off, could you share one of your favorite stories from your work with City House?
CR: I’m afraid I have to share two stories. The craziest thing happened in 2012 when Fossil generously donated 1,000 his/her watches for our gala swag bags.
Two days before the event the watches had not arrived. I called the UPS tracking number only to find out that I had given them an incorrect address. Turned out the delivery address was a few blocks away, and not in the most favorable of neighborhoods to be in receipt of $50K worth of watches. But I was determined to find them. So out I went at 10:00 p.m. to search the neighborhood. As it turned out, I couldn’t find the address. After cruising the neighborhood and inquiring with the denizens of the street if there had been any delivery boxes around, I ended up parking my car and took to the streets on foot. I called the Plano Police Department and advised them that I was poking around and what I was looking for.
As I walked down 16th street, I caught sight of what looked like an abandoned house with a wraparound porch. When I looked closer, I found twenty boxes stacked by the door. There were condemnation notices on the window and door of the house, and there was a light on. I called back the police, told them I might have found what I was looking for, and before I knew it an officer arrived. As it turned out, the house was occupied, and when the officer knocked, an elderly woman answered. The sweet old woman said the boxes had been there for several days and “others” had been inquiring about them. She told us that she believed they belonged to the roofing company, and were filled with shingles. The police officer and I had a great laugh as we schlepped all the boxes up the street and put them in our office.
As for our kids, there are countless stories as you can imagine. They are all aspirational and want something better for their lives. My favorite client story is about Ron Bultongez. Although I love them all for their unique talents, Ron is just special.
We asked Ron to sing at our gala this year, and the deal was he would come in for his performance and leave right after. I was up on the production deck calling the show and I was pretty certain he’d left after his song. The next thing I see he’s up onstage singing with the band for four songs. When I went through the pictures from the evening, there were probably fifty of him. Elvis never left the building! There were images of him at the Step & Repeat posing with our guests, pictures of him with the band, and even more of him tearing up the dance floor. Although he kind of defied the agreement, I’m so incredibly proud of him. He epitomized the hope, grace, and confidence that we want all our kids to exit our program with. He came to us from an extremely abusive home with the voice of an angel, and he has flourished.
He, and all the others like him, makes what we do every day the most rewarding work one could ask for.
What a wonderful story to end this on. Thank you so much to Chey Reynolds and to the amazing folks at City House, who’ve really taken Kelly and Gunner’s story to heart and put their love and dedication into making this event wildly successful. We’re so proud to be part of this with you!
Stay tuned for more fun stuff from Chey this month when we share a day in her life, and be sure to purchase your Friscovania tickets. It’s happening on October 22nd, which is just a few short weeks away, and we’d love to see you out there if you’re in the area! If not, buying a ticket will support the amazing, wonderful, life-changing work of City House. So it’s a win-win, no matter what! Click the button below to buy your tickets today. And be sure to follow City House online!