A pack of 20-somethings tore up the dance floor as a live band played in Manhattan’s historic Prince George Ballroom. It was Dec. 3, and Benjamin Edwards and Alexander Kirschenbauer, both Class of ’20, were hosting a charity ball, tailored for a younger crowd.
This was the first Solstice Ball, an event that Edwards and Kirschenbauer started and hope to continue in the years ahead. They chose the Bowery Mission, which provides homeless New Yorkers with food, shelter, and support programs, as the charity that would benefit from the ball. After a year of planning, Edwards and Kirschenbauer were thrilled to see 250 people between the ages of 22 and 30, including many Princeton alumni, show up to reconnect with friends, have a good time, and most importantly learn about how they could support the nonprofit.
Edwards and Kirschenbauer work at Goldman Sachs and Veritas Capital, respectively. They began their careers in private equity in New York City after graduating from Princeton and soon began looking for ways to volunteer in their city. They say seeing the impact of COVID-19 on fellow New Yorkers motivated them to not wait until they were older to do something.
“With COVID, people lost their jobs, they lost family members, they lost wage money. And especially in New York, people can be one missed paycheck away from a life-altering disaster,” Kirschenbauer says.
This is why the Bowery Mission seemed like the perfect charity to support through the first Solstice Ball. Edwards and Kirschenbauer volunteered at the Bowery Mission for a year before the ball, preparing and serving meals and speaking with guests.
As they spoke with other recent graduates about the experience, they found that it was difficult for many of these people to set aside time to volunteer. Giving financially, too, can be daunting for people who are new to the workforce. Edwards and Kirschenbauer wanted to address these concerns and find a way to show other young people that it’s manageable to give, even if it’s a small amount of time or money. The hosts sold 275 tickets to the ball at $175 a piece.
“With the Solstice Ball, people bought in and were thrilled to do it. So that was one learning piece, that we can help by getting our friends to help in a way that is in line with the priorities of people’s schedules in their early 20s,” Edwards says.
At the Solstice Ball, under gilded ceilings, attendees mingled, danced, and listened to speakers from the Bowery Mission. The two hosts made a point to ensure attendees understood the purpose of the ball. “Of course we want people to come and have fun, but we want that to be one aspect of a larger education about how we can help people in our community,” Kirschenbauer says.
As he scanned the ballroom, Kirschenbauer noticed a couple dozen people gathering around the Bowery Mission representative, drinks in hand, deep in conversation. “For me that was the perfect duo reward of people having a ton of fun on the dance floor and then people stepping aside and taking the time to speak with her and learning more about the Bowery Mission, because that was the whole point of the event,” Kirschenbauer says.
Edwards and Kirschenbauer intend to host the Solstice Ball next year and support another New York charity. They also hope that attendees — and people who hear about the event — will be inspired to start similar events modeled after this one. Or, if they can make the time, begin volunteering in their communities. At the event and in the days that followed, many attendees reached out to the hosts, expressing their desire to do exactly that. The event has brought in $15,000 so far for the Bowery Mission, and beyond money raised, Edwards and Kirschenbauer see volunteer commitments as a crucial part of the ball’s success.
“It doesn’t matter what your life is like regarding work and other responsibilities. There’s always time,” Edwards says.