On May 29th of 2013, Founder Lisa McKenzie had an idea of creating an empowering experience for women who have had cancer. The idea was to do more than just a fashion show. We wanted to gift the participants with a runway training experience, knowing that some positive life skills could come from the training (such as posture, confidence, team building and friendships). We didn't have a logo and we barely had a website. We chose the name "You Night" because, when we started reaching out to the community for help, we recognized how many people knew a loved one who had cancer and that everyone was united in our mission to help. We went to Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center with this thought in mind, "If God wants this to happen, He will open doors wide open." Sure enough, the team at Mary Bird Perkins loved the idea of celebrating women who have survived cancer. We attended a June 1st Cancer Day event, and introduced our concept to the ladies who were sitting in the audience. 12 women walked up to us and put their name on our participants' list. Social Worker Jane Freudenberger would call us and ask, "Can you take one more? She can really use as a 'pick me up'". We kept saying "yes", until we got to 24 participants and that's when we decided that 24 would be the magic number of women on stage. For our first year, we were a "breasat cancer survivor show", and 450 people filed into the Fleur de Lis Event Center to cheer on these amazing women. After the show, doctors, nurses, friends and family members came up to us with tears streaming down their faces. We knew we did something special that night...but we weren't quite sure what it was! We just knew that the experience was the start of something special.
The St Tammany Class of 2014 was our second class. We were still at the Fleur de Lis Event Center, but were packed in like sardines! This was the first year we ever had a theme. We decided to name the event, "Treasured" because we were so tickled by Jay Saux and his pirate attire that he wore to work. We asked him to be the keynote speaker that night. We wanted our participants to have that same "joie de vivre" and wanted to give our participants permission to step outside of comfort zones. We changed our program that year to include any type of cancer, because a young gal called us and said, "I really need to be in your program but I have the wrong kind of cancer." That statement hit us in the gut. What type of cancer is the right kind? So -- that was a permanent change we added that year. We also recognized (after the first year) that our alums were having a bit of a let-down experience, so that was the first year we had the alums open the show! The nurses from Mary Bird Perkins were in the 2013 and 2014 performances. We created our logo (but it still had a pink heart back then), and we updated our stage to have more modern projectors. We still thought of ourselves as an event (not yet a program), but the needs of our participants started surfacing, especially since we experienced the loss of some of the sisters. On the "outside", our program looked like all fun and games, while on the inside, we were addressing the many emotions that the participants were experiencing. We knew we had to keep adding more spiritual emphasis to our program to help the women find purpose and passion. This is the first year we added the Candlepass to the program so that the ladies could really get to know what each one was going through.
In 2014, after we wrapped up our 2nd You Night in St Tammany, we got a call from Ochsner —requesting that we bring You Night to New Orleans. Although one You Night a year kept us very busy, we pulled the trigger to add a second city and our small crew of just about 6 people doubled down and went to work! We held our rehearsals on the 3rd floor of Ochsner and that year we had a 82 year old walk the runway! The event had the “Treasured” (pirate) theme and we were the opening night of New Orleans Fashion week. Television personality Travers Mackel was our master of ceremonies, and Betsie Gambel was our featured speaker. Travers honored his mom on stage who is a breast cancer survivor. We got a lot of press that year, and expanded our stage to a 45’ long stage at the Board of Trade Event center. This was the first year we met Kenny Lopez who came to cover the show as a reporter. Obviously we fell in love with him. Tammy Broussard was one of runway participants, as were Ruth Mora Avila, Kristyn Moorefield Kemp, Karen Schindler and Meg McCrocklin Trapani to name a few of the ladies who are still very much involved today as leaders. The event was standing room only with 450 guests. After the show was over we had to announce that everybody needed to wait a few minutes so we could pick up the chairs for the post party. This New Orleans class planted the seed for what is now a beautiful program on the New Orleans side. God has blessed You Night!
New Orleans Class of 2015
As our participants started growing into an incredibly tight-knit sisterhood, and as the needs of participants continued to grow, we decided to incorporate a summer retreat into our schedule. The retreat gave us the opportunity to spend more time addressing subjects that are important to our ladies. Subjects such as sexual health, spiritual health, stress coping, and just the ability to have "me time" with women who get it -- the retreat was an incredible addition to our programming. Our first retreat was held at Bogue Chitto State Park in the Group Cabin. 50 campers attended and slept on bunk beds. It was wonderful waking up with no make up, and a come as you are feeling that allowed women (hair or no hair) to be themselves. This was the first year that our retreat held team games and a dance party -- all a huge success. At about this time in our history, with two annual You Night Runway Programs and a summer retreat, we were officially a year-round program. Doctors, nurses and social workers began recognizing the important role we could play as a community partner, as we were helping their patients in the area of emotional healing. We had become the alternative to traditional cancer survivor support groups. As one of our participants said, "In traditional support groups, there really isn't a beginning or end to the meetings. They are continuous, and because of that, it feels as though the cancer journey gets you stuck in the "what next" mind set. With You Night, because of the six month curriculum that is created, their is a common goal in sight, with mandatory activities that force participants to stay involved to the exciting finish line of the runway show."
In October 2015, we celebrated with our 4th You Night Class -- the St Tammany Class of 2015. The theme of the program was "FIGHT CLUB". This was the first year that we relocated from the Fleur de Lis Event Center to the Castine Center, giving us the ability to spread out and offer a better guest experience (with a lot more seats available). This is also the year that we had two male participants -- Charles Doc Stansbury (deceased) and David Mancuso. We really enjoyed having the fellas, and so did our audience. Ultimately, though (for just practical reasons such as dressing rooms and women issues), we decided after this year that (for now) we would keep our program centered around women's needs. Some of the sharing at candle pass (etc.) has intimate details that we felt would be best in an all-woman's environment. With that said, though, the guys were a lot of fun to have in the program. At this show, Dr. Saux's mom was one of the participants. For our "Fight Club" theme, we filmed a boxing video montage at what used to the UFC boxing ring in Mandeville, and @Pat Brister and Jay Saux had starring roles. Pat welcomed the guests to the show (see video on their page). All of the ladies and the two gentleman were gifted boxing robes with their names embroidered on them.
The New Orleans Class of 2016 was also the "FIGHT CLUB". We nicknamed this class our "angel class" because this was the first year we really took time to do more spiritual emphasis with the training. I believe that this class set the tone for all future classes, as You Night (the program and sisterhood) was really starting to hit its stride. After a successful first year in New Orleans with the class of 2015, we moved our venue to Mardi Gras World, where our stage grew to 72' long to accommodate all the guests. This was the first year that Kenny Lopez was our M.C. and the first year that at Tammy McCormick Broussard, Leslie Legania - Shelby and Lauren Siegel took over as coaches. One of the feedbacks we got from the previous St Tammany Fight Club Class was that they wanted us to have more time during rehearsals to include "spiritual emphasis" and sisterhood time. Prior to this class, we rushed through rehearsals on Wednesday nights with only a 2 hour rehearsal. We decided with this class to move rehearsals to Sundays -- right after church, but before dinner time -- to allow for a more enjoyable experience. This was the first year that we held rehearsals at Franco's on Magazine Street. We were still working with a skeleton team and how we managed to do everything is astounding! This was the first year that we incorporated a "big sister" team (comprised of Ruth Avila and Kristyn Kemp). The idea behind the big sister program was to have graduates from the program in the dressing room because only a You Night graduate can truly relate with all that goes on with rehearsals and backstage. Our event was held at Mardi Gras World on St Patrick's Day (Holley Haag's birthday!). Although some people thought that day would mean a small crowd, we packed in nearly 750 guests that evening and it was a very successful event. This was the last year that the alums were on stage wearing all black. We chose black because it was easy to choose a little black dress, but You Night kept developing the theatrical elements, as you will see played out in the next class (St Tammany 2016).
The St Tammany Class of 2016 channeled their inner rock stars with the theme, "Rock the Runway" -- a classic rock inspired program. This was the first time that we filmed a music video, complete with a band R.V. and a custom stage. The ladies filmed to the song, Pat Benatar's "You Better Run". The ladies filmed during the day, took a couple hours off, and then came back for a Legacy Partner party/wrap party where we "forced" our sponsors and the Mary Bird Perkins' nurses to get on stage and sing. Many were hesitant until they got on stage and then their alter egos took over. The party was a huge hit. The ladies also got to choose a famous rock album and pose for album covers that were on display as portraits in the lobby. To see the album covers, be sure to visit their page! They are amazing. This was the class where the now infamous Kim F Munsch and Mo Net (Monette Bernard) tried several times to get say this line for the camera: "At You Night, we help women embrace life beyond cancer." There's a complete blooper reel made of them trying to get this line out! (It's on their page). As for the runway show, imagine walking the runway to Stevie Nick's "Edge of Seventeen", or "Welcome to the Jungle" -- with fireballs exploding on the screen. You Night was held at the Castine Center with a 94' long stage. This was the first year we decided to get the alums out of their black dresses and into costumes that helped play up our theme. This was the show that the Capital One film crew came out to to film me and Charo in the national commercial. It was at this time that we formed our St Tammany Advisory Board. Rock On! See their class page here:
They were GROOVY, BABY! 2017 was the year that we were the YouNighted Kingdom! The NOLA Class of 2017 dressed up in groovy, 70s clothing and filmed their music video to the song "Wings" by the girl band Little Mix. We moved our location from Mardi Gras World to the Contemporary Arts Center. Kenny Lopez was Austin Powers and Tamica Lee was Foxxy Cleopatra. We introduced our KNIGHTS program this year -- addressing the needs of Male CareGivers, under the guidance of Michael Holmes. We celebrated our retreat at the Solomon Episcopal Center and Becky Gilbert was crowned Miss Shagalishious. We were named New Orleans "Most Glam Event" by St Charles Avenue Magazine, and Lisa McKenzie won an award for the state of Louisiana called the InnovateHer Challenge sponsored by the Small Business Association. We brought the husbands and significant others in to film the music video, with choreography help by Dr. Joyce Varghese. The alums came on stage in a super swanky number to open the show.
2017 was a busy year of Development of You Night Programs
As our sisterhood grew into over 200 member/participants, our team grew to start addressing the many needs that cancer survivors and their families have. We founded the Scar Art program (ScART); the KNIGHTS program for Male CareGivers; and Love Always Mom (addressing the needs of family members who lose a loved one) and the needs of our sisterhood as it pertains to the loss of a sister; and Battle of the Models -- a program that showcases the empowerment of our graduate alums.
To view these programs, click on these links:
They were GROOVY, BABY! 2017 was the year that we were the YouNighted Kingdom! The St Tammany Class of 2017 was our biggest class yet, with 26 class members dressed up in groovy, 70s clothing and filmed their music video to the song "Wings" by the girl band Little Mix. The event was held at the Castine Center in Mandeville. Kenny Lopez was Austin Powers and Roxanne Powell (a You Night alum) was Roxxy Cleopatra.