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The power of positive volunteering

Social connections support philanthropic platform for Andrea Rodgers ('93)

By Cherin C. Poovey (P '08) Wake Forest Magazine
The events of 9/11 inspired Andrea Rodgers to 'give back.'
The events of 9/11 inspired Andrea Rodgers to 'give back.'

Andrea Milam Rodgers (’93)  is the publisher and editor-in-chief of askmissa.com, a website covering the intersection of charity and style in 21 major U.S. cities. She is president of Miss A Marketing as well as president and CEO of Courage for Kids, a nonprofit organization supporting programs for at-risk urban youth. Rodgers, who double-majored in economics and politics at Wake Forest, is based in Washington, D.C. She became inspired after Sept. 11, 2001, to encourage others to give back to their communities.

Tell us about your website and your business.

AskMissA.com (@AskMissA) is one of the largest and fastest growing online destinations for women. With over 1.2 million unique readers annually, Miss A believes in the positive power of volunteering and charity — not only to benefit those less fortunate, but to improve the individual, business or brand that gives their time, money and energy to a cause. Our mission is to shine a spotlight on the best charity events, cause marketing campaigns and philanthropic and stylish people, businesses and brands to inspire others to get involved. As much of the arts is supported by philanthropy and is inherently stylish, we love covering the arts – performing arts, music, dance, theatre and film.

What kinds of things do people Ask Miss A?

Well, they used to ask me quite a bit, but I no longer give advice on beauty, fashion and relationships. Volunteering has taught me so much over the years, and connected me with so many wonderful friends, businesses, nonprofits and brands. It’s this passion that led me to refocus Miss A on the intersection of charity and style (short for lifestyle – not just fashion). Our coverage started in D.C., but we now cover 21 markets in addition to topical content that would be of interest to folks in any of our cities. We have dozens of editors and hundreds of writers across the country, and even some overseas.

The connections with nonprofits, people, businesses and brands are what I enjoy most. We’re really focused on utilizing social media – Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I am so blessed to have found my passion and to have the courage to “follow my bliss” as Joseph Campbell suggested. Success is a journey — not a destination. A marathon — not a sprint. I still have so many ideas to bring to fruition.

What about your Wake Forest experience that pointed you in the direction you’ve taken?

I was at Wake in the early ’90s. It was before “Sex and the City.” College girls weren’t into fashion or wearing heels. We wore running shoes, Birkenstocks and L.L. Bean boots. As for charity, my volunteer work was nonexistent. Charities didn’t have a great way to get the word out about volunteer opportunities since we didn’t have email, cell phones or social media, and the internet was not used by the mainstream yet.

I was never that person in high school or college who knew what I wanted to do after college graduation, let alone with my entire life. I loved my art history, philosophy and politics courses, but my father wanted me to major in something “useful” like business, accounting or economics, so I double-majored in politics for myself and economics for him. I really struggled after graduation without any direction aside from my relationship with my college boyfriend, whom I got engaged to at only 22 and divorced at 30.

In looking back, how could I have known what I wanted to do? What I do didn’t exist. I remember one really smart pre-med friend who showed me the internet in 1993 not too long before I graduated. The internet was very primitive, but still made a big impression on me. Society really puts so much pressure on kids to have a plan, but the truth is you can’t plan your life — your career, love life, or family. You can dream and hope, but you have to be flexible, adapt, shift and evolve.

It was being involved in Wake Forest University’s Alumni Club in Washington, D.C., that got me involved in the community. I was our representative to the Capital Alumni Network and helped plan events like our outing to Virginia Gold Cup. Later, I became president of our alumni club and  joined Junior League of Washington, sponsored by Rebecca Gentry (’95), a friend from my WFU days. She also got me involved in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which I later chaired. If anything it was my being social in college and being a social connector — offline and later online — that may have steered me to doing what I do.

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Pro Humanitate, or “giving back,” is important to you personally and professionally. Why?

I was inspired after 9/11 and became heavily involved in Washington’s charity circuit in an effort to give back to the community. I started out volunteering with DC Cares which is a great way to explore all the wonderful nonprofits we have in Washington. I visited with the elderly at Washington Home & Hospice, took kids on hikes and to museums on the National Mall with Sierra Club’s Inner City Outings, worked a silent auction for MS Society, etc.

Another way I got involved was by joining the Junior League of Washington, which allows you to volunteer in the community with wonderful nonprofits like Bright Beginnings, or help internally with fundraisers so that you can gain skills like PR and event planning.

I participated in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man and Woman of the Year fundraising competition in 2004 and came in second. I enjoyed using my creativity, social network and leadership skills to co-found three fundraisers: Blondes vs. Brunettes to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association, which is now a national event and is projected to raise $5 million in 2013; Courage for Kids, formerly The Courage Cup, to benefit at-risk children; and Fashion for Paws to benefit the Washington Humane Society which has since raised over $2 million.

As a result of personal experience, my belief in the many benefits of giving time and money back to one’s community to help those less fortunate serves as the foundation of the entire Miss A brand. Miss A serves as a technological platform to inspire women to enrich their lives and those of others by volunteering, sharing unique philanthropic ideas, and supporting charitable local and national companies and brands.

What’s the “neatest” thing you’ve done in your career?

I’ve had many amazing experiences, but I was most honored to be hand-selected by Vogue magazine for the Vogue 100 list, influential decision makers and opinion leaders across the country known for their distinctive taste in fashion and culture. The Vogue 100 represents a group of women who personify the rising influence of women over the past several decades. Through Vogue, I was picked by Procter & Gamble’s luxury skincare line SK-II to be part of a national ad campaign featured in the September 2010 issues of Vogue, W and Allure. Vogue brought me to New York for a photo shoot with legendary photographer, Patric Shaw. It was amazing — a dream.

You’re juggling a lot of plates. What keeps you going?

Passion, drive, inspiration, wanting to make a positive impact with my life.