Meet the Local Wedding-Planning Nonprofit Supporting Survivors of Domestic Violence
Andrée Collective is the vision of licensed mental health professional Samantha Mathews.
There are many incredible choices for wedding planning companies here in Philadelphia, but this new one is doing things a bit differently — by supporting female survivors of sexual assault, human trafficking and domestic violence while making your Big Day dreams come true. The vision of East Falls-based licensed mental health professional Samantha Mathews, Andrée Collective is named for Andrée de Jongh — a member of the Belgian resistance during World War II — and officially kicked off its programming this month. Here, Mathews shares how it works.
Philadelphia Wedding: Tell us about your background. I’ve worked in the mental health profession since 2014. I started out in North Carolina, fund-raising for a domestic violence agency. That’s what made me passionate about this area of the mental health world. So I went to grad school, got licensed, did internships, and moved to Philly in 2018. I’ve worked at John Applegate & Associates and JJPI. The goal through all of this was Andrée Collective. It didn’t have a name yet, but the [social-entrepreneurship model] existed in my mind for many years. I wanted to get to a place where I had some of the competencies and skills — and had the right team — before moving forward.
PW: Who is on your team? I’m not a wedding planner at all — other than for my own — but I’m a mental health professional. That’s why I’ve brought on phenomenal people who are familiar with that area of our work, including Madison Mento, our wedding and event planner. Our board member Lindsay Dillard, who is a wedding planner in DC, has been consulting with us. Our board includes members [with experience in nonprofits and community assistance] who are local to Philly but also other areas, like DC or New York. Because of the nature of our client work, [survivors] oftentimes have to relocate due to the complexity of their trauma.
PW: Why is the industry ideal for this platform? It’s a primarily female-driven industry, and we work with female survivors. So we love the empowerment piece that exists there. There are so many transferable job skills within the industry as well. Wedding planning is a project-management type of job. It’s intense, hard and difficult, but … it teaches the types of skills that could really move into any other job. So our expectation isn’t that a survivor is going to stay in the wedding industry forever — if they want to, fabulous — but we work with them to figure out their goals and learn the skills to accomplish them. Additionally, the wedding field is untapped: It’s a more than 60-billion-dollar industry in America that’s not really being utilized for this kind of work. And we think it can be.
PW: How is your nonprofit connecting with survivors ? We are working with referrals from partner agencies like Salvation Army’s New Day Drop-In Center, Lutheran Settlement House and the Domestic Abuse Project of Delaware County.
PW: What do your survivor programs include? Our short-term programs include a virtual 10-week therapeutic group led by me, which begins Friday. We also will introduce a financial literacy program that’s helpful for anyone who has experienced financial abuse in the past. Once the survivors have gone through either of those initiatives, they can apply for our long-term program, which we’re planning to launch in the spring. It’ll be an apprenticeship: They’ll be employed by us and paid for their work. They’ll have independent and group therapy and vocational training with a career coach. It’s not going to be full time because many people are in other programs, taking care of their children or trying to manage the challenging world of starting over. We’re expecting 10 to 12 hours a week for nine to 12 months. The goal at the end is that they’ll have a next step in mind. We hope to have a 100 percent employment rate for clients leaving our program.
PW: Say I’m a bride coming to Andrée Collective to plan my wedding. How does it work? We offer day-of and 60-day coordinating packages, which will be primarily planned by Madison. The women who are coming through our cohort will be working alongside her on those weddings, learning from her, shadowing. Once they feel comfortable and confident, they can be there day-of if it’s safe for them to do so. As we continue to expand, we plan to bring on a decor and rental section, so they’ll be able to run that. They’ll be doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work to give them those transferable job skills.
PW: How can couples get involved? We can do a consult with a couple if they’re looking for wedding-planning services. Or, if they want to use their wedding as an opportunity to give back, they can add Andrée Collective to their registry so guests can contribute. Wedding revenue will cover a maximum of 25 percent of our funding needs, so that’s a huge way people can help the clients we serve. The rest is fund-raising.
PW: Have you started working with survivors or couples yet? We have booked one wedding for 2023 and have consultations for more on the books. Our first group of survivors starts Friday and will be capped at 12. The next group will begin later in November.
Day-of coordination $1,750; 60-day coordination $2,150; other services available as add-ons. Click here for more information.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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