COCA Travels with Purpose and Style
Written By Johnny Fugitt
Photos Provided By COCA
Two persons never really know each other until they travel together. Encountering the unexpected outside familiar surroundings allows us to be ourselves and reveals our less-polished nature to fellow travelers. This is why many still cherish relationships developed over hikes, summer camps or study abroad programs from decades past. Even if we travel more as we progress through life, our opportunities to form new relationships through travel often wane.
Community development or service trips, both domestic and international, are standard ways to support an organization, further a mission and, as a byproduct, create lasting friendships. Another popular way of supporting an organization while traveling is to bid on a charity auction trip.
One local charity is changing the nonprofit-travel paradigm by connecting supporters with executive leadership and the organization’s mission in a different way. These are not trips spent swinging a hammer or providing the helping hands so many organizations require. Nor are these trips where one writes a check and disconnects from home and the organization. Instead, these are exclusive experiences specifically tailored to connect strategic partners with the work and leadership of an organization. Such trips require many hours of planning and there are risks for an organization to open the kimono, but the value of relationships created through these immersive, experience-rich and relationship-focused trips can not be overstated.
COCA recently returned with 32 supporters from a behind-the-scenes trip to New York City. Co-Artistic Directors Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd, Executive Director Kelly Pollock and Director of Advancement Pam Mandelker created an itinerary that started at The Juilliard School. Former COCA teaching artist Alicia Graf Mack, who last year became Juilliard’s first African-American female Director of Dance, hosted a tour of the esteemed Upper West Side school. The group then headed to Broadway for a private event with COCA-alum Joe Grandy before enjoying his newly-produced show “The Prom.”
The group also enjoyed an exclusive experience at the Baryshnikov Arts Center with Mikhail himself, a man considered one of the greatest male ballet performers of all time.
“We met over an hour with Baryshnikov,” says Shereen Fischer, Co-VP of Development who cohosted this trip with her husband Michael, Linda and Jesse Hunter and Kim Kuehner. “He spoke with us, talked about what he does and talked about how it coalesces with what COCA does. I had a life-size poster of Baryshnikov on my bedroom door as a child, so that was a very exciting moment for me personally!”
From an artist alumni brunch to a private event at THE MODERN Restaurant at MoMA with St. Louis’ own Danny Meyer, the trip featured one COCA-connected behind-the-scenes experience after another. It would be nearly impossible for the individual traveler to create this sort of itinerary, but the trip wasn’t just about opening must-know-somebody-doors. Each experience paid tribute to the ways COCA impacts artists and how the organization helps artists reach new levels in their professions.
Robert Merlin, an attorney and travel consultant with SmartFlyer, was also on the journey. “For my wife, Melissa, and me to see COCA's strong impact on the arts community - both here - and in New York City was a tremendous experience. As long-time supporters of the organization meeting the alumni who have been impacted by our involvement and who, in turn, are impacting and affecting the greater arts community was meaningful and helped confirm that COCA showcases and cultivates the best of St. Louis.”
“It is really vital to our success and our mission to have more people understand the importance of what COCA does for the youngsters in St. Louis as far as shaping the trajectory of their lives,” says Fischer.
Missed the trip? The next best way to connect with COCA is at COCAcabana 2019 on the 26th of April at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis. This year’s theme of Upside Down promises interesting performances and surprises. Always just a few weeks after Variety Week, both are St. Louis’ premier annual philanthropic gatherings.