Category Archives: Fall 2010

Partying with a Purpose

Philanthro Productions has raised $210,000 for various charities including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Invisible Children and Upward Bound House since its inception. The organization is currently active in three major cities in California: Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

Yan Pu, 26, is a Minnesota native now working full-time for a venture capital firm who really, really enjoys going out, Pu is the co-president of the San Francisco chapter of Philanthro Productions, a non-profit group started in Los Angeles in 2007. The organization throws events after choosing another non-profit to partner with through a rigorous screening process. They market their events, which are aimed a younger crowd, similar to nightclub promoters.

“Philanthro helps to eliminate the trade-offs between spending time with your friends while contributing to a good cause,” says Pu.

Co-founder, Andrew Geisse, says he’d like to see that number tripled. “More qualitatively, I hope we are able to expand into more cities, but we are very cautious about this process,” says Geisse. “The purpose is to keep improving on our ability to deliver our mission. I’d like to see each city throw an event that the original founders never thought Philanthro would be able to do.”

Geisse’s wishes have come true in some sense. On November 13, Philanthro Productions participated in a multi-city event benefiting Pencils of Promise, an international non-profit that focuses on building and supporting schools in developing countries.

It is through these sort of large-scale events that Geisse truly feels Philanthro’s impact. “One of our first events in L.A. was for Susan G. Komen,” Geisse says. “They’re a huge organization and the money that Philanthro raises out of a single event is a drop in the bucket of their operating expenses. But, we got over 800 out to our event, educated them about breast cancer and used the event as a platform to build our own Race for the Cure team, which ended up being over 100 people.”

The San Francisco Bay Area is a city where many non-profits begin as it is a welcoming platform to try new ideas. Another fairly new-comer to the philanthropy scene is Reason to Party, based out of San Francisco.

Reason to Party often holds events at beautiful venues like the St. Regis Hotel. They recently held a benefit party for We Players, a theatrical group that performs on Alcatraz, at Medjool Restaurant.

Under his pristine Dolce & Gabbana sneakers and well-manicured outfit, hides an incredibly excited and exuberant young man named Arsen “Ari” Kalfayan, the co-founder of Reason to Party. Kalfayaen comes from a financial background as a former account executive for Fisher Investments. The UC Davis graduate is also part of the CrowdFlower team. Kalfayan’s typical day includes servicing Fortune 100 Companies and creating new opportunities within that space.

While working at CrowdFlower, Kalfayan wanted to create something for twenty to forty-something-year-olds to do that was productive, fun and beneficial. Perhaps this inspiration came from his mother who is known for helping others; Kalfayan has a history of being involved with his community and political scene since middle school.

“They are getting something they’d already want to do, and giving back,” Kalfayan says about people that attend Reason to Party events.

Walking up the first flight of stairs at Medjool, Kalfayan is stopped at least three times by guests of the We Players benefit party. Kalfayan is certainly the man of the hour, if not the night.

Events like these make anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a night. Although the events are successful, Reason to Party cannot expand until it receives its official non-profit status–the organization plans to go after corporate sponsorships.

“We’ve already had meetings at Wells Fargo, Google and Genetech,” Kalfayan rattles off a few big names. “The concept really sells itself. People want to give back; they just need that extra push.”

Social networking sites play a big role in marketing for both organizations. Reason to Party is fueled 100 percent by social media and grass roots efforts. “It’s totally viral,” says Kalfayan.

Philanthro Productions also utilizes Facebook, GoogleBuzz and Twitter several times a week. The San Francisco Chapter currently has 825 “likes” on Facebook. They keep people interested by posting videos of musical artists performing at the events as well as photos from all the events.

Pu has not heard of Reason to Party. While she acknowledges that there are many other non-profits in existence with a similar business model, she believes Philanthro’s ability to generate the most return on their events makes them a stand-out organization.

“For every dollar spent throwing an event, we are able to generate $14 in contribution to our partner non-profit,” says Pu. “We try to stay efficient in our spending so that approximately ninety percent of proceeds go straight to the non-profit. We also pride ourselves on educating the patrons at our events with creative production elements.”

The Pencils of Promise event will do just that, says Pu. One way is through decorations, the event will have napkins with facts about Pencils of Promise and the places it will affect. A live stream of all the parties will also be featured using “We want [the guests] to know why they are here and where their money is going.”

Laos is one of the places attendees’ money will go to for this particular event. Philanthro Productions teamed up with Pencils of Promise (PoP), based out of New York City, to create a nationwide party to benefit building a school and supporting the SHINE program. SHINE stands for Sanitation, Hygiene, Identity, Nutrition and Environment, and it will be implemented into the schools built in Laos, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Mimi Nguyen, 26, remembers her first trip to Laos during the rainy season to help build another school in 2009. “You know, most of the time you are campaigning and you’re not on the ground putting the hammer to the nail. But, the moment you do, you realize the fruits of your labor,” says Nguyen.

On August 15, Nguyen decided to make the move to be a full-time member of the PoP movement as Director of Development.

“It was very difficult not to think about Pencils of Promise every single hour,” says Nguyen.

Both Nguyen and Pu agree that working in the non-profit world gives more than a good feeling at the end of the day. A new skill set is something that both women agree is gained.

“Externally, you can inspire others to get involved,” says Pu. “But, internally we help develop volunteers. You can learn different skills that you couldn’t necessarily learn at your daytime job. You can take a leadership role in a pressure-free setting and make contacts with people in the fields you are interested in.”

Nguyen gushes about the ability to meet many people in different industries and the opportunity to learn from them. But she also

appreciates the intrinsic value she feels with her team members. “It’s almost like going back to school,” Nguyen says. “As if there is a project you’re insanely excited to work on in a team setting and you know that no one has any other desire than to meet this mission.”

The hard work put in by PoP and Philanthro is apparent on Saturday night as people line up around the corner at Azul Bar & Lounge in Union Square for the multi-city challenge; the doors have only been open for thirty minutes. Passers stop inquisitively asking what is going on and some even end up joining and buy their tickets at the door.

Two rows of Christmas lights are strung atop the alleyway where several informational tables are set-up. Every guest is given a pencil with a dollar amount attached to it and some have a chance to win a drink ticket. He or she must go to one of the tables and figure out how much that amount can do for a child. Ten dollars supports thirty-one days of education and $250 provides a teacher’s salary for one year.

Geisse stands amazed with fellow Philanthro members admiring the crowd composed of people in their mid-twenties and early thirties. The Pencil of Promise event is a culmination of all the knowledge gained since Philanthro’s birth, says Geisse.

“We didn’t know anything about how to throw an event at a club in the beginning,” says Geisse. “It feels great to see this. Everybody who put together this event did this on their nights and weekends or they are trying to sneak out for a call during the day.”

Inside Azul, people are buzzing with excitement around the bar and cozy dance floor. The music is pumping and the guests are excited about Ashkon Davaran, Internet celebrity–thanks to YouTube–and the Giants fans, who will be performing. Adam London, 27, the other co-president, introduces the surprise performer before stepping away.

In 2009, London became involved with Philanthro when a college fraternity brother introduced him to the non-profit to help run development sponsorships. “I was passionate about raising as much money as possible,” says London. The Pencils of Promise event raised over $7,500, which very close to London’s hope of hitting the $10K mark for a night.

London also hopes to “coolify” Philanthro and volunteering in general. He believes San Francisco’s eclectic culture will make this possible and London is excited for coming year to say the least. “I love that we have a consistent following, but my style is more to push the limits and try new things,” says London. “We can’t always throw club events. Some people would rather go to an art auction or a wine tasting.”

London encourages college students to get involved with a cause they believe in and suggests some local programs such as Habitat for Humanity, Greater San Francisco, Real Option for City Kids (ROCK SF) or the soup kitchen at Glide Memorial.

“Pick a program or non-profit that aims to fix a problem you think needs fixing and volunteer your time,” says London. “You’ll be amazed how good you feel after.”

Civilian bootcamp

The alarm next to your bed goes off at 5:30 in the morning and as tempting as it sounds to just hit snooze and enjoy the comfort of your warm bed, you decide against it. It’s pitch black outside and your room is icy cold but somehow you force yourself to stand up. The holiday season is upon us but there is no excuse to gain that warm winter weight. Throw on some workout clothes and hurry up because you’re about to burn off last nights sugar cookie(s) and don’t forget to grab a water bottle and a small towel because your first boot camp class starts in 30 minutes.

It is too early to function and your eyes can barely stay open. Standing next to a handful of other people, who look equally as tired, you wonder what the hell you got yourself into. You cannot remember the last time you have been awake this early.

“Welcome to operation rapid response! Arms up, level with your shoulders. Elevate your knees to your hips on each kick. Keep your back straight. Keep going!” START fitness instructor Bianca Buresh yells.

Suddenly you’re running in place and the blood starts flowing. There’s really no time to think because the instructor transitions quickly through exercises. Today’s work-out consists of thirty minutes of indoor training, then thirty minutes outdoors. Many boot camp classes can be both indoors and outdoors and can be for people of all fitness levels. Today’s indoor training class focuses on muscular strength, stamina and overall aerobic conditioning while outdoor training includes running, sprinting and focuses on developing aerobic efficiency.

Loud music begins playing in the background. You start to wake up. The music helps you get focused motivated. “Mountain climbers! Lets get down on the ground!” Bianca yells out. She shows everyone what to do by getting in the push-up position and alternating her right knee to your chest and then the left knee, then tells everyone to do the same and as quickly as possible. Thirty seconds of this and you’re back on your feet jumping up, then dropping to the ground doing push-ups. Twenty more repetitions! Jumping, dropping to the ground, push-ups; it feels never-ending. Bianca instructs everyone to shout ‘hoorah’ after the last push-up. Everyone begins counting down from ten and then finally you get to the last push-up. Yes, almost finished!

“I didn’t hear everyone shout hoorah!” Bianca says. “You’re going to do ten more repetitions! Don’t forget to yell hoorah this time.” There are no breaks to get water or let you catch your breath. It’s up to you to excuse yourself to do either of these. Once the indoor session is finished everyone hurries outside.

Instructors at START fitness do not yell at people to do an exercise and are trained to motivate and coach people by demonstrating proper exercise techniques. Boot camps are not just for the military anymore. Many boot camp fitness groups are located around San Francisco, usually downtown, along the Embarcadero, at Crissy Field and in the Marina district. People actually pay to attend these intense fitness boot camp classes.

Army National Guard Staff Sergeant, Ken Weichert, and his wife Stephanie Weichert, founded START fitness, one of San Francisco’s first civilian boot camps. The boot camp formed in 1997 and is the longest running boot camp in the country. It is a group exercise program and incorporates military-style workouts.

Imagine jogging alongside a six-time soldier of the year, master fitness trainer and veteran of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm. Probably not in one of your top three things to daydream about, or imagine yourself adding to your Tuesday’s to-do list. For a small group of individuals living in San Francisco, this has become their favorite way to work out.

Sgt. Ken has devoted his life to promoting fitness, resilience, leadership and getting people into shape. So move aside yoga classes, there’s a new, bad-ass fitness group in town. Maybe there’s something about a tall, military-looking guy that really motivates an individual to push themselves as hard as they can. These military trained instructors are one of many reasons boot camps are becoming more popular.

The training techniques used by START fitness instructors are also practiced by the U.S. military. Ken and Stephanie have trained thousands of soldiers through Operation Fit to Fight, a fitness instructor training program they started. This program was was created to train soldiers for basic combat training. Many exercises from this program are similar to those in that are in START fitness workouts. Ken and Stephanie also produce health and fitness programs for GX Magazine ( a National Guard Magazine), and programs for the National Guard and Military websites.

The exercises are created to target target specific muscle groups and a person can burn between 600 and 800 calories in one sixty-minute class session.

Sgt Ken has been has served the military for seventeen years and travels around the country to train soldiers before they are deployed. Ken is usually in San Francisco for one week out of a month.

So, you just wrapped up the first thirty minutes indoors of the fitness boot camp class, now you’re outside and it’s time to work out for another thirty minutes. Bianca instructs the class to do lunges uphill for one block then continue jogging uphill another three blocks until you reach Lafayette Park located at Sacramento and Gough Streets. There, the class jogs up a flight of stairs, does push-ups at the top, jogs back down and is told to do suicides. This continues until the end of class.

Your muscles are shaky and you feel a little nauseous but you can’t help but smile and feel good about yourself.

According to multiple Yelp reviews, the START fitness boot camps,”really kicks your ass!” Whether you make this a daily routine is up to you. Six in the morning is early, but at least you get it out of the way and still have time for school and work. Maybe thinking about all the bad food you want to eat this season will be enough motivation.