The Give-Back Wedding

Emma Frankart Henterly
Shelby and Anthony Johnson

When Shelby and Anthony “AJ” Johnson were married in Columbus in July, the impact of their wedding reached well beyond the couple’s family and friends: A community in La Libertad, El Salvador, gained the funds to manage a new health clinic.

Shelby is a nurse at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center—Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, and AJ is an officer with the Columbus Division of Police. They met through Rock City Church in the Short North, where both have participated in annual mission trips to El Salvador. When the two started pricing wedding venues, they couldn’t help thinking how much more good their money could do in the impoverished communities they’d visited.

“I’ve gone on multiple mission trips,” says Shelby. “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 connected the couple with Val Jorgensen, owner of Jorgensen Farms in Westerville. After hearing why the couple wanted to keep their wedding cost low, Jorgensen stunned Shelby by offering the venue for free. The couple immediately pledged to donate $5,000 to Total Health, which funds clinics in underserved Latin American communities and staffs them through partnerships with organizations such as Rock City. Thanks to a grant-matching program from an anonymous donor, that $5,000 became $10,000.

“I just felt it was the right thing to do,” says Jorgensen. Her generosity moved the couple to think even bigger.

“When someone gives that boldly and freely,” says Shelby, “it’s just a huge game-changer.” She asked other vendors if they’d like to join the effort. Almost all, including a videographer, photographer, caterer, makeup artist and deejay, agreed to donate their services, either in whole or in part. “It just makes you realize, people have amazing hearts,” Shelby says.

In addition to their donation to Total Health, the Johnsons donated their gift registry, allowing a local family in need to register for items in their stead. In lieu of favors, the couple distributed tokens that guests used to vote for charities to which the newlyweds would make a donation.

Shelby and AJ hope similar-minded couples feel inspired, not intimidated, by their success. In fact, they are working with Jorgensen to recruit business partners who will help other couples follow their example.

“There are so many weddings that happen every year,” says AJ. “Imagine if 50 percent of those weddings said, ‘I’m going to do something charitable during our wedding.’ Can you imagine the impact that would make?”

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Columbus Weddings.