Sherry Gentry-Gasper's parents worked hard to provide for her, but getting bused to advanced math classes at a high school in a wealthier neighborhood was still an eye-opener. "For the first time, I realized my clothes and backpack were old," says Sherry, 34, a Raleigh, NC, IT manager and mom to Destini, 17, Myson, 15, and Anniston, 6. The experience inspired her to help those who had even less, so she made charity and volunteering a priority throughout her early adulthood. Then, in 2005, she had the idea to turn monthly girlfriend dinners into fundraisers to support local families going through tough times. "We help the people who normally fall through the cracks," says Sherry. She calls her informal organization Good Deeds Girls Night Out - Raleigh.
Friend in Deed
GDGNO began when a friend couldn't afford to buy Christmas presents for her children after her husband lost his job. Sherry suggested that her girlfriends chip in $5 each to help. She added to the pot and bought toys for the kids with the $200 they raised. "People were so pumped about it that we decided to continue fundraising," says Sherry. The group soon sent gift cards to a woman too strapped to pay her utility bill, and sponsored women who ran races to support various charities. "It really is a two-for-one: I get to hang out with my friends, and as a bonus, we give back," says Sherry. "I'd always joke with my husband, Ronny, 'Oh darn, I have to go help the community.' "
As GDGNO grew, it evolved too. Now about 40 women gather monthly, raising up to $400 at each event. Two of Sherry's best friends—who also help her arrange the get-togethers—tally the $5 donations, which guests drop into a locked pink box. GDGNO bought a plane ticket to Haiti for a woman to pick up her adopted baby, donated an iPad to a 5-year-old with leukemia, and hired a tutor for a boy whose grades slipped after his dad had suffered a stroke. A few hundred dollars doesn't move the needle for a big charity, says Sherry, "but to a local family, it's a big deal."
There are now spin-off groups in Beaufort, NC, and Jacksonville, FL, started by women who were inspired by GDGNO. "That's really the neatest part, watching people find their own way," says Sherry, who typically matches whatever her friends raise each month, up to $200. This leads to an occasional "tough conversation" between Sherry and Ronny, an insurance specialist. "It's true there are things around the house that need to be fixed, and a vacation would be great," she admits. "But helping another family is worth any sacrifice."
To learn more, find Good Deeds Girls Night Out - Raleigh on Facebook.
Photography by: Jonny Valiant