THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS are thrilled to introduce our newest FEATURED SWEETHEART, Cailin O'Connor. You may recognize Cailin as the genius behind the Bridget Zinn auction in the past year. As far as we're concerned, Cailin is pure gold. It's hard to get much more deserving than that.
TXSH: You have such a fascinating background, Cailin, could you tell us a little bit about what you do, and how writing plays a role?
CO: I have a master's degree in human development and family studies and I work as a consultant, primarily focusing on parenting education and child abuse prevention. I do a lot of translating research into practical terms for people who work with parents and children, and I also work on program evaluations for child and family programs. I've always enjoyed writing and editing, and I'm glad to have found a professional niche for myself where I get to use those skills, along with my academic training, to work on an issue that I really care about.
TXSH: How did you get involved in the auction to raise funds for Bridget Zinn?
CO: I've known Bridget for years - I actually became friends with her husband, Barrett, when we were in high school, and met Bridget though him when we were all in college. Bridget and Barrett are such good people and so much fun to be around. When Bridget was diagnosed with colon cancer, my husband Nicolai and I wanted to find a way to help. Since Bridget & Barrett had moved to Portland, it was hard to know how we could help - we couldn't bring them dinner, or take care of their cats while they were at the hospital, or anything like that. Then we heard that Bridget's health insurance wasn't going to cover a lot of the treatment she needed, so we decided to put that energy into fundraising. We got some mutual friends together in Madison to work on fundraising. That little group (including Kristin Esselstrom, Amanda Moss, and Jess Main) actually did three fundraisers in 2009 - a huge garage sale, a "film and food" event at a local restaurant where we showed some of Bridget & Barrett's short films, and the online auction. A different person has taken the lead for each event, and we've had help from other friends of Bridget & Barrett for each event too. I took the lead for the auction. We also started a Facebook group called "I want to help Bridget & Barrett!" to let their friends and family know about opportunities to help. That group now has 130 members!
TXSH: What were some things you did to stay organized and on top of things?
CO: As soon as the donations started coming in, I created an Excel sheet listing all the auction items, donors, starting bids, and so on. That allowed me to keep track of all the donations and whether they had been listed on the auction website yet. That was also how I realized when I needed to ask for help - when I could see I had dozens of items on the Excel sheet that weren't listed on the website yet! I asked Jess Main to help me add some listings, and with her help I got all caught up in time for the auction to start. Another friend, Janet Piehl, looked over the items that were listed and caught several errors and inconsistencies before the auction went live. When the auction ended, I went back to the Excel sheet and added in the winning bid, the winner's contact information, and whether the payment had been received and the donor had been notified. So it was a bit of a process, but it pretty much worked. Using the website http://32auctions.com was also a huge help. I thought it had a very professional look, and it was easy to set up the auction and add items.
TXSH: What was the biggest pleasant surprise of coordinating the auction?
CO: People were so generous, from those who donated items - many of whom have never even met Bridget or Barrett - to those who bid and won items. I think the biggest surprise was the generosity of the young-adult literature community. Authors and editors from around the country donated signed books, manuscript critiques, and other items to help out a fellow author. I had hoped to have 50 items in the auction, and we ended up with 112! And when the payments came in, many people "rounded up" from their winning bids - some incredibly generously. With just a couple checks yet to arrive, it looks like the auction will bring in a little over $7,500 to help with Bridget's medical expenses.
TXSH: What advice would you offer to those who are considering coordinating a fundraiser?
CO: I guess for anyone who is considering doing an auction, I would highly recommend they use 32auctions. It's free to use for an auction of up to 32 items, and very reasonably priced to upgrade to have a larger auction. (There are other upgrades available as well.) I would also just recommend that you spread the word about what you're doing as far and as wide as you can. We used Facebook a lot to promote the auction, as well as list-servs and flyers posted in coffeeshops and libraries. You never know who will see it and spread the word even further. For example, Bridget's agent, Michael Stearns at Upstart Crow Literary, blogged about Bridget's story and the auction, and Cicily Janus saw that and blogged about it on the Huffington Post. I don't know how many people came to the auction site because of that, but it certainly didn't hurt!
And now a brief bio for Cailin:
Cailin O'Connor works as a consultant on a variety of projects related to children, youth, families, and prevention. She holds a master's degree in human development and family studies from the University of Wisconsin, with a graduate certificate in Prevention and Intervention Science, and a bachelor's degree in philosophy and religious studies from Macalester College. Cailin is one of the co-authors of the report What Works, Wisconsin: What science tells us about cost-effective programs for juvenile delinquency prevention. (This and other related publications can be accessed at What Works Wisconsin.) Cailin lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, Nicolai Bech Mortensen, and their almost-2-year-old daughter, Amalia.
Cailin, thank you so much for being our featured sweetheart this week!