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New Kid in Town

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Hearts as big as Texas: Texas United Charities’ board of directors are (clockwise, from top left) David Revils, director; Melissa A. Flories, president; JP Gill, vice president; Donna Junker, secretary; Jerry Rockwell, treasurer; and Sara Sjolander, director.

Texas United Charities throws its hat into the fundraising ring.
by Nancy Ford

Melissa Flories began her fundraising career for Texas’s LGBT community in Fort Worth before moving to Houston in the late nineties and becoming a driving force in the local fundraising-by-performance community.

The affable, proud Lone Star native cut her teeth on community activism in the 1980s with Ft. Worth’s Pride Association, where she served as president.

“Then, when the AIDS epidemic hit our community, I became a very active member with the Imperial Court de Ft. Worth/Arlington, whose primary focus, back in those days, was to raise money for people with AIDS,” Flories says.

Flories earned the crown of “Emperor 16” in the mid-nineties in a national, charitable Imperial Court system, and remains an active member of the local organization today. She has also served
on the board for Lesbian Health Initiative (LHI) and has been involved in countless fundraising events for various organizations.

Suffice it to say, the woman knows her way around a community fundraiser.

Flories and a handful of like-minded people have decided to put their experience and passion into a new project called Texas United Charities.

“All of us have varying fundraising backgrounds, and we would do things from time to time to support other organizations in their fundraising efforts,” Flories says. “We wanted to ramp up our involvement in this arena, but none of us could find a place we could call ‘home,’ so to speak.”

In March 2012, Flories and friends converged at her and her partner Sara Sjolander’s home to explore possibilities. “We discussed several ideas,” she says. “In these discussions, we ultimately decided to start our own fundraising organization so we could build the fundraising model we felt would best suit us, our membership, and our community.”

From those discussions, Texas United Charities (TUC) emerged.

TUC’s mission is simple, she explains. “TUC is a 501(c)(3) charity that wants to raise money for the gay and lesbian community and have everyone involved have fun doing it.”

TUC’s first charitable endeavor is the 1st Annual Texas Red and White Ball, scheduled February 9 at EJ’s.

“There are several things happening that evening, the most important being a judged contest for Mr., Miss, and Ms. Texas Valentine,” Flories says. “There are
two parts to the contest: talent, and
funds raised prior to the event.” Winners of the pageant receive a $25 bar tab at EJ’s, dinner for two at Riva’s, and two movie tickets. Proceeds from the evening benefit LHI.

Guests are also be treated to flowers, photos, and a “meet your match” service for singles.

Flories recognizes that there are
several other well-established, performance-based charities in Houston that operate similarly and aim to fill the same need as TUC.

“All of the fundraising organizations in Houston do a great job in raising money for people that are in need, and our goal is to add to that mix, tapping into different pockets of the community to bring them on board,” Flories says. “There are some similarities, and there are several things that make us very different, as well.

“First,” Flories explains, “we will not be producing events every weekend. We are more focused on developing [anywhere from] two to four signature events that will repeat each year. Second, we will not be raising money all year long to produce an annual event.”

Second, Flores says, TUC’s fundraising model requires 100 percent of the funds raised for each event to be donated to the named charity.

“Our charter and general membership dues are designated to cover any event costs and the small operating budget we have, so all the money raised at a TUC-sponsored event will be donated to the charity,” Flories explains.

“Third, we are a statewide organization with hopes of building TUC chapters in Texas, so we are not just exclusively in Houston,” Flories says.

Further, TUC is not limited to donating to health issues or giving to groups. “We also have the ability to gift to individuals, if we so choose,” she adds.

An inclusion sure to raise some eyebrows, TUC’s charter aims to raise funds exclusively for the “L’s” and “G’s” in the LGBT community.

“We believe that everyone has the right to raise money or donate to any charity they choose,” Flories says. “As far as our money designation, it is not so much who we don’t want to raise money for, but rather, who we do want to raise money for, and where our dollars can be most effective.

“We wish we had all the money in the world to do with as we choose, because we have a list of segments we would give money to, beginning with the homeless population here in Houston,” Flories continues. “Having said that, the simple matter is that we know in these economic times, raising money for charity is more challenging than ever. We want our dollars going to those that are first on our list and in our hearts: the gay and lesbian community.”

The most important aspect of Houston’s newest charitable organization, Flories says, is that TUC “loves to raise money, we love having fun doing it, and we welcome new and creative fundraising ideas.

“The members of the TUC board are honored to be serving the Houston gay and lesbian community. If there are any specific needs any organization has that are not being met, please do not hesitate to contact us.”

Anyone interested in membership or making requests for funding is asked to e-mail Flories at [email protected]

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