SEARCH Foundation: At the Heart of the Events Industry

By Hillary Harris

The SEARCH Foundation is a non-profit organization near and dear to my heart. Its focus is the special events industry which historically is filled with many small businesses and independent contractors who, when disaster hits, need a helping hand. This year I was honored to be asked to serve on the Board of Directors which gives me the amazing opportunity to be on the front lines of its cause, helping special event professionals faced with a life threatening illness or catastrophic occurrences find some financial support and breathing space.

SEARCH helps defray medical costs and helps pay bills while people are recovering. The organization has been able to help many people over the years and with a new board, led by Rick Turner, we plan to do even more.

Rick has been in the event industry for the past 15 years, currently as Director of Business Development for Colortone Staging and Rentals, an audio-visual production company. He’s also seen first-hand what SEARCH has done for our industry peers throughout the years and says to anyone who will listen that it’s worthy of his heart and soul. When the new board convened in Los Angeles, Rick visited me on the lot where we chatted more at length about SEARCH and his intentions and goals.

Hillary: What makes SEARCH such an important charity for the special events industry?

Simply put, SEARCH exists to help our peers and colleagues when they are in need. It is the only industry specific charitable cause out there, and we have kept our focus on the events industry since Day One.

Hillary: For me, that’s what gives SEARCH a special place in my heart and a big part of why I want to be involved. What was it about SEARCH that made you want to be part of it?

I was asked to be a part of the organization back in 2009 after I’d hosted some events where a portion of the proceeds went to SEARCH. Honestly, I wasn’t completely familiar with the mission or the goals, but after doing a small amount of research, I knew that this was something I wanted to get involved with right away. I’ve served on a number of national and local boards over the years, but my first encounter with the SEARCH Board made a huge impact on me. This is a group of great people that are completely committed to assisting professionals in need.

Hillary: And now, as Chairman of SEARCH, what are your goals for the foundation?

For the last 12 months, we have been on a “Campaign of Awareness.” Our board members, such as yourself, have been representing the organization at different industry association events throughout the country. We’ve added new national showcases to our events calendar such as the IMEX America Conference, and are ramping up our efforts for a number of other existing shows. Our hope is that SEARCH will be represented wherever you go!

Hillary: A lot of people don’t realize all the good SEARCH has done as the organization is rightfully discrete. Yet I know some people have come forward to share their stories. Can you recount some for my readers?

Our success is all based on the assistance we have been able to provide. I’ve had people approach me out of the blue and tell me how much of a difference SEARCH made in their lives when they needed us. You hear such incredible tales of tragedy and sadness, but each example ends with “SEARCH was there for me, and I’m forever grateful…”  It’s really incredible to know how much we care for one another in this industry.


The Thank You notes make it all worthwhile. One of my favorites was from an Australian event planner who lost his home in a brush fire. SEARCH helped with costs and he wrote the most unbelievable note with photos and captions. In one part he writes: “We see hope, we see new dreams that encompass all we learned … SEARCH Foundation has touched our hearts.”



Another event person, an independent contractor with no insurance, was on the way home from an event when the truck she was in was struck and totaled. Sadly, she lost her leg.

She was in ICU for several months. SEARCH wrote a check to defray living expenses, fly her daughter in, pay for follow-up care and more. And when Hurricane Sandy hit, yet another member of the event community — a single mother with a five-year-old boy — found herself without a home when hers was filled with three feet of water.

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It had to be gutted back to the bare beams. She lost all her appliances and personal items. FEMA denied her claim but SEARCH was able to help with funds that got her started again.

What’s really important to note about SEARCH is that we turn around a check in less than 30 days of the application. You have no idea what that type of response rate is until you have been in this type of need.

Hillary: How can professionals in need of aid get in touch with, and get aid from SEARCH?

Visit our website. We’ve worked diligently to provide all the answers you’d need from a donation, assistance and message standpoint.

Hillary: And for those who want to give more of their own time and services, how can they get involved in SEARCH?

We are always looking for like-minded event professionals to come and help us by joining a committee or assist in spreading our message. We certainly appreciate the support we receive by having people attend our signature events and donate through the raffles, auctions and other unique outlets. Our website offers guidance as to what committees and opportunities are available. This is a good place to start. Our Facebook page and Twitter feeds are constantly updated, so mark those as places to check as well.

Hillary: So many ways to find SEARCH! Thank you so much Rick for taking the time to visit with me. I am so proud that there is something like this in our industry and prouder still to be part of it. I look forward to working alongside you and our other board of directors to make sure even more people find, and are helped by, SEARCH.

Originally posted 11.21.2013 on WB Special Events

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Hillary Harris

As Executive Director of Warner Bros. Studios Special Events, Hillary Harris has produced more than 250 events both on the lot in Burbank and at outside venues.

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