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Local businesswoman believes its better to give than receive

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS FROM SUE PIAZZA. - Sue Piazza, shown with husband Michael Patrick, (upper right) launched the Fab 50 Project last year with a fund raising goal of $50,000 to support local charities who work with children. Piazzas efforts allowed her to present $13,000 checks to six different organizations at her 50th birthday party earlier this month. The group conducted numerous events, including a Harvest Party for homeless children at Liepold Farms last fall (upper left). Sue Piazza asked that none of her guests bring gifts to her 50th birthday party on Thursday, June 14. Instead, Piazza marked the milestone anniversary of her birth by giving away presents.

To the tune of $78,000.

"God gave me the thought to do this," Piazza said, referring to the Fab 50 Project, a fund-raising effort she started a year ago. "Most people have surprise parties or go on a big vacation, but I thought I'd rather do something for somebody else."

Piazza's personal 12-month challenge stemmed from years of community involvement and a feeling of being blessed in her own life. It was an enjoyable odyssey, she said, sparked by the creativity in how the funds were raised and the community's support.

But the experience also has launched a mission for Piazza, who now hopes to mentor others to do the same thing.

A lifelong Gresham resident and local businesswoman, Piazza enlisted the help of four friends to found the Fab 50 Project shortly after turning 49 last year. Her goal was to raise $50,000, which would enable her to give $10,000 to five Gresham-area charities, foundations and civic groups dedicated to helping children.

"I had a wonderful childhood," she said. "But I believe if you can take a child and give them a positive life experience while they're growing up, they can become leaders and better direct where they go in the future. That's why I chose the Rotary Club of Gresham. They can send 15 homeless children to summer camp for five years with $10,000. Camp is a memory making experience for a child."

To reach her $50,000 goal, Piazza and her core group of supporters met every other week to plan and brainstorm events for the Fab 50 Project.

They produced a cookbook of Piazza's family recipes, served hamburgers at Burgerville, sold gift cards, accepted donations based on the donor's age and held a Salsa Dance Event, where guests dined on traditional Latin foods and danced the night away.

Fab 50 events ranged from the creative to the extreme.

"Doug Walker with Walker Travel suggested collecting foreign money left over from people's trips," Piazza said. "What would they do with it if they weren't going to go there again? We exchanged it for U.S. dollars. We offered gift wrapping at a holiday bazaar we had at Gresham Ford. One person donated $250 to have their gifts wrapped. It wasn't so much about what they would pay, but that they believed in the project and charities."

But Piazza's coup de grâce, however, was the Share a Little Green with Charity Auction held Saturday, March 17, at the former Borders Books location in Gresham Station. With 235 in attendance, the Fab 50 Project brought in $51,000 - exceeding Piazza's original goal.

"We asked businesses to buy a table for 10 and fill the table with whomever they wanted," she said. "That way, we were able to bring in a bigger sphere of people. It wasn't just our circle. I was really surprised by how much we raised because I was just hoping we'd get to $50,000. To go over was amazing."

Piazza's yearlong journey involved 348 people and 94 local businesses, who helped with everything from donations to volunteering.

In the end, Piazza was tight-lipped about how much money she had actually raised. Anticipation was electric in the room, as Piazza's supporters, family and friends gathered for the gala reveal on Thursday, June 14, at the Greater Gresham Baptist Church.

Piazza and her husband, Michael Patrick, presented checks for $13,000 to the Gresham-Barlow Education Foundation, My Father's House, Good News Community Health Center, the Rotary Club of Gresham and the Gresham Salvation Army.

But Piazza had another surprise.

"We also gave a $13,000 check to the Legacy Breast Health and Imaging Center at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center," she explained. "Because we were so blessed, and I found out they were going to be here, I chose them, too. We've lost family members to breast cancer and we have family members who are survivors. But all kids need their mom."

While more than humbled by the financial support the Fab 50 Project received, Piazza said she was equally gratified to see networking develop between the nonprofit organizations and those with time and talents to share.

Official fund-raising may be over, but Piazza is hopeful the Fab 50 Project will serve as a springboard for those looking to make a difference in the lives of other people.

"I'm hoping that people will connect with these charities, find out more about them and help our community," she said. "I would also love to work with someone who's 48 and would like to do this for their 50th birthday. I want to pay it forward and hope someone else would pay it forward, too. I'd like to see the Fab 50 Project become something people do when they turn 50. I love this community. That's why I am so passionate about this."

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