The wedding day is among the most important days in a couple's shared life. This big day will be among the most important ones in the lives of many more.
This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Columbus Weddings, published in June 2018.
On July 21, 2018, after the sun has set on Shelby Kiskis and Anthony “AJ” Johnson's wedding day, the couple will see some changes. Kiskis will have a new last name, and a community in La Libertad, El Salvador, will have the funds to manage a new health clinic.
Kiskis, a nurse at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, and Johnson, an officer with the Columbus Division of Police, met through Rock City Church in the Short North. Almost immediately after Johnson proposed in November 2017, Kiskis started brainstorming ways to leverage their wedding to give back to the communities that matter to them. Her first idea tied into Rock City's annual mission trips to El Salvador, which she and Johnson both participate in.
“I thought, ‘What would it look like to have each table's centerpiece be a photo of a child [from El Salvador] who needs to be sponsored?' ” she says. “Even if no one sponsored anyone, what would it look like, just to raise awareness?”
Then, Kiskis started touring venues … and getting price quotes.
Kiskis says she “just couldn't fathom” how much good the money she's spending on her wedding could do in a Third World country. “I've gone on multiple mission trips,” she says. “It's hard when you know what a dollar can do overseas, and then tell yourself you're going to spend $15,000 on yourself for one day.”
A friend mentioned Jorgensen Farms in Westerville, so Kiskis connected with owner Val Jorgensen to talk pricing and availability. After hearing the couple's budget and why they wanted to keep it low, Jorgensen made a stunning offer.
“I'd been talking to her for five minutes on the phone, and I just said, ‘Well, why don't I just give you the wedding venue?' ” Jorgensen says. “She asked, ‘Are you serious? Don't you want to think about it?' I said, ‘No. I trust my intuition.' I felt like if I didn't offer it to her then, I'd be calling her back that night. … I just felt it was the right thing to do.”
Kiskis credits Jorgensen's generosity as the catalyst for something bigger than she could have imagined. “When someone gives that boldly and freely—I mean, I didn't even ask her for that at all—it's just a huge game-changer.” She and Johnson immediately pledged to donate $5,000 to Total Health, which funds clinics in underserved Latin American communities and staffs them through partnerships with organizations like Rock City. Thanks to a grant-matching program, that $5,000 instantly became $10,000.
Inspired by Jorgensen's reaction, Kiskis began asking her other vendors if they'd like to jump on board, too. “With all the vendors, we basically said to them, ‘We're just offering you this opportunity to be a part of the giving aspect of our wedding.' We didn't want any vendor to feel like we were choosing them only if they agreed,” she explains. As of press time, eight weeks before the big day, only one vendor has declined to participate in some form.
“The crazy thing is, everyone is doing it without hesitation,” Kiskis adds. “It just makes you realize, people have amazing hearts.”
Jorgensen is quick to return the compliment. “I don't want it to be about us in any way,” she says. “It's really about the children [in El Salvador] and what [Kiskis and Johnson] are doing for them. … If I can't do this for them, then I shouldn't be in business anyway.”
Similarly, Kiskis insists she wants none of the praise. “All I did was ask people for things. That's nothing,” she says, adding that the vendors of Columbus came together to enable that $10,000 donation. She credits her fiancé, too, adding that without his emotional support and financial backing, none of this would have been possible.
In addition to their financial donation to Total Health, Kiskis and Johnson are donating their registry by allowing a family in need to register for items in their stead. The family is a single mother and her daughter who Kiskis says currently lack even basic necessities like beds. And in lieu of favors, the couple will give their guests each a token to drop into a jar representing one of two charities—Humanize the Badge and the Columbus Dream Center. Each token symbolizes $1 that the newlyweds will donate to that charity.
Johnson and Kiskis want similar-minded couples to feel inspired, not intimidated, by the magnitude of this process. “Find one vendor [who will donate services]. And whatever you would have spent on that, make a donation. Or find a family [in need] and donate part of your registry,” Kiskis suggests. “These are all very easily doable things that people can take that one day that is special and make it a way to also give back.”
“A big part that excites me about this whole thing is that, hopefully, it will catch on.” Johnson adds. “There's so many weddings that happen every year. Imagine if 50 percent of those weddings said, ‘You know what? I'm going to do something charitable during our wedding.' Can you imagine the impact that would make, nationwide?”
Interested in donating part of your wedding to a charitable cause? Visit cbuswedmag.com/Donate for tips from Johnson and Kiskis.