Happy Birthday to the Untours Foundation: The Ungala Toasts 25!

Andrea SzyperSubmitted by

On a chilly evening at the start of April, the Untours Foundation gathered with progressive business leaders, community activists, entrepreneurs, donors, foundation leaders, Untourists, and Untours staff and friends to celebrate its silver anniversary. We gathered to acknowledge the Untours Foundation and its 25 years of funding Fair Trade, job creation, green development, and economic empowerment. We had a lot to celebrate, after over 7 million dollars of foundation money has been cycled to and through organizations to fuel job creation and strengthen local economies.

The Untours Foundation continues to help others with its low-interest loans and hands-on support of new and growing community-based projects and organizations, offering people “a hand up, not a handout,” as our late founder used to say.

Heather Van Dusen was the event chair. She serves on the Untours Foundation board and works for B Lab by day. Heather lead countless planning meetings, corralled the help and resources of many, and oversaw every detail of the event, including the headwear she models here. As the event was held on April Fools’ Day, she chose to add a little levity to the gathering. Heather also charmed the crowd as a warm and energetic emcee for the evening’s presentation.

Bart Houlahan (left) was our very gracious host this year, opening his gorgeous home to us for a memorable soiree. We enjoyed milling around the space, lingering in his big, busy kitchen to pour drinks, gazing on his Asian art, and knocking back a couple Sterling Pig beers on the back patio. Bart is a co-founder of B Lab and worked briefly as a consultant for Untours. In his welcome toast, he spoke movingly of his respect for Untours founder Hal Taussig, the Untours gang, and the work of the Untours Foundation.

Elizabeth Killough (left) is the Untours Foundation director and the motor that makes it run. Speakers praised Elizabeth for her warmth, her kindness, and her backbone of steel. It was fun to hear stories of her tenacity, pragmatism, and personal involvement. So many of the foundation’s investees consider Elizabeth a partner and friend, she’s clearly doing something right! 

Rachel Faller (right) received the first ever Undreamed of Award, a $5000 award to be given to progressive businesses that lead by example. Rachel’s apparel company, tonlé, is the perfect awardee. As Rachel developed a career in fashion, she was appalled by the labor conditions and the amount of waste inherent in the industry. So she built a smarter model, and created a stylish, zero-waste fashion line. We argue it is actually negative waste, because they buy fabric remnants in the local scrap markets in Cambodia, where they have set up a different kind of factory, where workers are paid a living wage and work under excellent conditions. They fashion bolts of fabric into clothing and then use the scraps to make small items. Tiny leftover scraps are turned into yarn for hand-knitted scarves and vests. Remaining fibers are made into paper greeting cards. Not a scrap wasted, and every item is shipped with the name of its maker on it.

Devon Walls delivered a lively speech about his work in Chester, PA. He has partnered with the Barred Rock Fund to found New Day Chester, where they are breathing new economic life and hope into the economically challenged community of Chester. His project includes artist studios and an art gallery, a theater and event space, and a coffeehouse. He spoke about the hard work of rehabbing old, empty buildings in the core of Chester, turning them into vital places of hope and vitality. His goal is to build community and seed a stronger local economy in an area that has been largely bypassed by economic growth and investment. 

Chuck Lacy, former president of Ben & Jerry’s, has been a partner in the project. As the director of the Barred Rock Fund, he has brought equity and personal business skills to the project, and a healthy dose of passion. While he was grounded by snow in Vermont and could not join us, his remarks were read by his friend and fellow activist Judy Wicks. Both speakers acknowledged Elizabeth’s personal support in the project and expressed gratitude to the Untours Foundation for its economic backing. 

I enjoyed talking to Connie and David Beattie about their recent travels on the Alsace Untour. They travel with Untours and donate to the Untours Foundation directly. I am always thrilled to meet Untours guests who get more directly involved with the work of our foundation. And I was delighted to hear that they are off to Scotland later this year and will stay in the same Untours apartment in Stirling that I used on my trip last fall. 

The party attracted like-minded philanthropists and foundations, like Laura Kind McKenna (center) and Christina Kind (right) of the Patricia Kind Family Foundation. They are another organization, like the Untours Foundation, advocating for mission-aligned investing to keep their endowment money active and helping others in the community. JoAnn Fleet (left), Senior Lecturer at Eastern University, is writing her dissertation on B Corps, and of course is including Untours, the world’s first B Corp.

And this year’s gathering saw the return of Alix Rabin and Jay Coen Gilbert, both of whom spoke at last year’s gathering. Alix served double duty as a host and greeter for this year’s event. And Jay was happy to relax as a party guest, though we all fondly remember the talk he gave last year about his founding of the B Corp movement and the inspiration he drew from Hal Taussig.

It was a magical night, in which guests and speakers fondly remembered Hal and also Tom Hibbard, the host of last year’s event — and a high school student of Hal’s 50 years ago! We lost a couple of heros in 2016. Tom served as an active member of the Untours Foundation board and was deeply engaged in the workings of Media, PA, including in the Rotary, in business development, and in the Fair Trade movement. We toasted to them and to the next 25 years of community development, economic justice, thoughtful travel, and creative growth. Cheers!

And a special thanks to Frances Schwabenland, a faithful Untours Foundation volunteer, avid traveler, and gifted photographer. You can’t see her because she shot all of these beautiful photos.

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