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The Gift of the Magi, Revisited
By Shelly Harris, Esq.
(more articles from this author)
2001-12-04
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A real life "Gift of the Magi" tale involving the unlikely trio of a Fortune 500 corporation (Sallie Mae, Inc.), a veteran 'Rockstar' (John Waite), and a Vegas strip hot spot (The House of Blues) banding together for the third annual Christmas show, Shade Tree III (for the benefit of the dire-straits emergency women's shelter in Las Vegas) on December 14th.

The "Worthy Cause":
Jeff Whorley, current district manager of Sallie Mae, Inc. (a Fortune 500 company in the student loan business) in Nevada and Indiana was starting up a new division of USA Group (later acquired by Sallie Mae) in Nevada, and had a vague brainchild/plan to utilize the new division's Christmas party funds to establish a pay, open-to-the-public holiday entertainment event where proceeds would benefit the neediest charity in Las Vegas.

Whorley did extensive research to uncover the city's "neediest"; charity, and ultimately decided on Shade Tree, an emergency women's shelter which houses not only homeless women and their children (50% of the total occupants), but also victims of domestic violence. As Whorley notes, "Las Vegas is a town where people come with big dreams that don't pan out, and a place where addictions, particularly gambling addictions, take people down hard and fast. People find themselves on the street very quickly, and most of those people have no family network here."

However, this year, even more than ever, the facility has been hard-hit financially because of the secondary effects of the terrorist attacks on the tourist industry and particularly tourist-business dominated cities like Las Vegas; moreover, in addition to increased homelessness, down turns in the economy invariably trigger increases in domestic violence, thus the even greater financial burdens to shelters like Shade Tree. Ironically, though the public has outpoured its moral and financial support for foundations directly related to the attacks, according to reports in the New York Times and elsewhere, secondary charities -- especially those relating to the homeless -- have actually suffered a dry spell in donations, despite their own increased hardships.

"Serendipity":
Whorley calls it simply, "serendipity." He's referring to a chance meeting with John Waite (former frontman of rock icons The Babys and Bad English, and best known for his international solo smash "Missing You") and his then-manager, Chris Arnstein, in a Vegas airport in 1999. Whorley, a fan of Waite's since high school ("I can tell you where I was when I first heard 'Isn't It Time'...and I've owned almost everything John has ever put out"), was actually just returning to Vegas in time to catch Waite's show at a casino that night, and in fact was making a "corporate outing" out of the event, with 25 other employees in tow.

While riding on the airport tram to luggage claim, Whorley was amazed to spot Waite and his manager on the same tram; conversation ensued and Waite asked for Whorley's business card to announce the USA Group during his set later in the evening, while Whorley chatted with Arnstein about his charity-event plans and the prospect of hiring Waite as part of the entertainment. Although Whorley further discussed the project with Arnstein at an after-show gathering, he says now, "I meant it, but you never know whether people are serious at those kinds of things."

However, a week or so later, Whorley -- who initially thought it was a joke by his staff -- received a handwritten note from Waite, sending his regrets for forgetting to announce Whorley's contingent at the gig. It was that personalized note that inspired him to re-contact Arnstein, resulting in a lunch meeting in LA, and Waite agreeing to perform if plans became more definite.

Finding a venue:
Since Whorley and his company were new in Vegas that first year, he says he "knew nobody and had no connections," and had some initial difficulties in getting a venue to donate its space for the event. However, as the event grew in size, number, and attention, the prestigious House of Blues (at Mandaley Bay Hotel on the strip) became the venue during 2000, and has now gone so far as to donate an important weekend night during the holiday season for Shade Tree III on December 14th.

John Waite and Shade Tree:
Explains Whorley, "John [Waite] came up early, to do some advance press for the [first] event and so forth...and actually went to the shelter himself -- and you can't go there without being moved. I called John after that first show, and said, do you want to do it again or not? And he said, 'Yes!' but he also said, 'We're friends and stuff, but, if you fix it where I'm getting any money for it, I won't do it.' He said it feels good doing a show like this at this stage of his career, and giving it back.

"John actually came up for the opening of the new shelter in the summer of 2000," adds Whorley, "and the people who really care about Shade Tree here, identify John with that cause in a very positive way. It is a signature thing for him in this town; there will be different acts this year....and different acts next year, probably, but John is a constant. To his credit he has been very egoless about it; he says, 'Let's get the best acts we can get, and I'll play the first three songs, or the last three songs, or whatever...' John has even gotten to know the staff in my office; the employees now relate to him as someone who really helps this community, as much as a performer. They donate their time to the whole thing, and John comes down early and thanks them for all their work, and bunch of them feel like they know him -- beyond a fan sort of thing -- and are supportive at another level"

The Corporation:
Jeff Whorley notes that this year Sallie Mae, Inc. is matching all funds raised at the event, and in fact the event itself would not be possible without the company's full cooperation: "They've been exceptionally generous in making this happen; many companies would not be so supportive when their operations out in the field want to organize this kind of event. They really had trust in the staff out here to do the right kind of thing, but they see that the employees are into the night and into the purpose."

This year's show:
Besides Host/performer John Waite, who has a new album out this year, Figure in a Landscape (widely thought to be the best of his 25 year career), and a bulleting AC single ("Fly"), the highly eclectic, stellar bill also includes 112 (who have been opening for Janet Jackson, and whose third CD just went double platinum) and Jonatha Brooke ("Linger"). Says Whorley, "It's a very different sort of diverse show...and John can make that work. For our crowd, he consistently out performs expectations. The people in the host seats always ask, in ordering tickets for next year, 'Is John coming back?' But it is a show that has something for everyone; it cuts across time and styles. We're selling it as the most fun holiday show of the season here in the Las Vegas area."

Proceeds:
This year, the Shade Tree Women's Shelter is $300,000 behind budget, so the goal for Shade Tree III is be to help make up that gap.

Be a part of the story:
General admission tickets for the December 14th event are $25 and reserve seats are $40.00. Tickets can be purchased by contacting The House of Blues ticket office at 1-877-632-7601. $400 host tickets are available and include preferred seating for four and admission to the after-show party with John, the guys from 112 and Jonatha. You may also call Courtney at 1-702-804-8492 if you are interested in buying host tickets.


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