Party Pros Who Pay It Forward

Party Pros Who Pay It Forward

Glitz, glamour and extravagance are words that often come to mind when it comes to weddings and special events. But beyond the big business of providing the products and services for these grand affairs of the heart, some industry insiders have found a deeper meaning in the work they do that lingers long after the evening’s last dance.

Check out these local event pros who do more than just put on a good party; they use their talents to do good things for their communities (and the planet)!

For the Love of Art, One Scrap at a Time

Andrea Liss, founder and creative director of Hannah Handmade


Receiving a one of-a-kind invitation designed by Hannah Handmade is so special; it almost feels like you’ve just received a precious piece of original art in your mailbox.

The award-winning invitation and fine paper boutique creates unique artistic designs for some of the most elite weddings, galas, social and corporate events around the country. The company even boasts creating invitations for the White House.

Andrea Liss founded the Evanston-based company in 1991, and realized early on that the scale and scope of many of her projects resulted in large amounts of leftover materials.

“It seemed like such a waste to simply throw them away, so I started looking for places to donate them,” Liss says. “It started small with donations to local schools, but as my business grew, I started looking for more places with the need for materials and the program expanded.”

Liss started a program called Scraps to Art, which donates leftover art materials and scraps of paper products to local organizations that support the arts. Liss is a firm believer in the power of artistic expression, and says the program has been a wonderful way to connect with causes close to her heart.

“I believe in the healing power of art, and feel very fortunate that I have found a way to help others in the day-to-day life of my business,” Liss says.

Several organizations, including schools, art therapy centers and social service agencies, have benefited from Scraps to Art, and the enthusiasm for the program is growing.

Donations, including materials like paper, envelopes, fabric, ribbons, beads, yarn, felt and other crafting supplies, can be made to Scraps to Art. If you have materials you would like to donate, or know of an organization that could benefit from Scraps to Art, call 847-864-8292 or email

Keeping It Green

Catering By Michaels


Practically a household name on the North Shore, Catering By Michaels in Skokie has been supplying food for every occasion – from holiday “Trays to Remember” to corporate picnics to lavish sit-down dinners – since 1980.

Director of Operations Jeff Ware estimates that 7 to 12 percent of food prepared for the average catered event is leftover or wasted. This is one of the reasons the company made internal changes that meet Green Seal standards – a national organization that certifies companies that promote sustainability and green-conscious environmental practices into their business models. Catering By Michaels is now the only caterer in North America to achieve both Green Restaurant and Green Seal Certification.

“There is a lot of ‘green washing’ in the marketplace, a term for using marketing to deceptively promote a company as environmentally friendly,” Ware says. “We wanted to be very genuine about our efforts and make sure to offer a high level of transparency, so the only way to achieve this was by having an outside expert authority approve our efforts.”

In addition to integrating green practices into their company culture, Catering By Michaels gives back by regularly donating excess food products to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Salvation Army. Smaller donations are sent to area fire and police departments to help feed first responders.

“We made the decision that operating in the most sustainable way possible was the right thing to do,” Ware says. “We do it for ourselves more than for our clients.”

Granting the Wish for a Wedding

Ali Phillips, wedding planner at Engaging Events by Ali and national president of Wish Upon a Wedding

Party-Pros-Who-Pay-It-Forward-Ali-PhillipsOrchestrating every detail of a wedding is a labor of love for wedding planner Ali Phillips. Her company, Engaging Events by Ali, has been sending couples down the aisle for over 13 years, and she is one of the most sought-after planners in Chicago.

Phillips’ passion for planning a special day that truly reflects a couple’s love story is what led to her work with Wish Upon a Wedding, a nonprofit organization that provides weddings and vow renewals for people facing terminal illness or a life-altering circumstance.

“I was so inspired by the mission of Wish Upon a Wedding, and the story of the first couple’s wish that they did,” Phillips says.

Phillips launched the Chicago chapter in 2010, utilizing her connections in the industry to enlist a host of vendor “wish granters” willing to donate venues, flowers, catering and other services needed to create a beautiful wedding for couples in need. To date, there are over 500 “wish granters” registered in Chicago.

Phillips recalls the story of Beth and Nick, the first couple she assisted through the Wish Upon a Wedding program. Beth was fighting cancer, and the couple worried about how they would ever manage planning a wedding in between chemo treatments. In a matter of weeks, the Wish Upon a Wedding team put together the wedding of the couple’s dreams.

“It was so rewarding for all of us to help this most deserving couple,” Phillips says. “And on the wedding day, it gave them time to really take a step away from Beth’s illness, and celebrate their love with each other and with their family and friends.”

Phillips now serves as national president for Wish Upon a Wedding, which has chapters in 10 states and is slated to provide over 25 weddings this year alone. The Chicago Chapter will host its annual gala at the Adler Planetarium on Nov. 2. In addition to monetary donations, Wish Upon a Wedding welcomes the assistance of volunteers to help with fundraising events. In lieu of party favors, Phillips says she’s been touched by the choice of many of her own clients to make a donation to Wish Upon a Wedding as a meaningful way to commemorate their special day.

“After all, love really conquers all,” Phillips says.

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