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Sarah Dexter did not grow up dreaming about her wedding. But when the now 22-year-old college senior chose the venue in which to say “I do,” she knew it was “perfect.”
And although the May 8 wedding she is gearing up for now — it's been dubbed the “community wedding” — looks quite different than the one she originally envisioned, the result, for many of the Calvert County businesses and individuals who pitched in, may still be just that: perfect.
Her fiance, Jake Evans, had proposed to her after the two climbed to the top of Peaks of Otter, one of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where they are both students, on May 28 last year — her birthday.
“We definitely wanted rustic, just relaxed, casual, because that's just who Jake and I are in general,” Dexter said. “The location, you could look off, and there was Peaks of Otter in the distance. There was a barn and a wood cabin … it was just a really nice location.
“So, yeah, I guess it could be considered my dream wedding, but I didn't dream too much about it.”
As far as dreams go, Sarah does have one, which she said is her calling from God: to participate in missionary work overseas.
So, when the intercultural studies major had the opportunity to spend eight weeks at the beginning of this year in two locations in the Middle East — she elected to keep the exact places private to protect the security of the missionaries still working there — teaching English as part of a university program, she didn't hesitate to go.
That's where Val Willis-Mayer, a Calvert County real estate agent, comes in. She knows Dexter's family because her husband went on a mission trip with Dexter's father five years ago and had heard about the young couple that had downsized their wedding plans to defer costs after the bride elected to pursue a mission trip.
Because both have student loans to pay off and a long-term goal of doing missions overseas, Dexter and Evans had decided to sacrifice the venue they had chosen in favor of a smaller wedding at Dexter's parents' house in Huntingtown.
“We decided that instead of having a huge giant wedding that would put us even more in debt, we decided to save that money and put it toward our loans so that we were able to go to these [missions] faster,” Dexter said. “I thought, 'This is crazy,'” Willis-Mayer said.
So, she blocked Dexter and her mother from viewing a Facebook post in which she asked her photographer friends whether any of them would be willing to shoot the smaller wedding as a gift to the couple. She immediately got three responses, and the offers did not end there. Now, the “community wedding” has exploded into an outpouring of donations and goodwill. Calvert County vendors, from entertainment to catering to flowers to handcrafted wedding bands, and even Perigeaux Vineyard and Winery in St. Leonard, the venue, have volunteered their time, talent and treasures to shape the reinvented ceremony. On Feb. 2, Willis-Mayer created a private Facebook group, to which she invited the vendors as well as Dexter and her mother, to orchestrate the effort. “Welcome..” she wrote in the first post. “Thank you for being a part of something this beautiful!” Victoria Ronan of Natural Looks by Victoria does makeup for brides and their bridal parties all the time. On the day of the wedding, she will do Dexter's for free. She said she's used to encountering young couples who forget what the day is all about. “I loved the story of this young couple who gave up their dream wedding to go on a mission trip,” she said. “Being in the bridal industry, I see so many young couples who spend a lot of money on weddings. It was incredibly noble of them.” For Brian Crow of Crow Entertainment, a certain responsibility comes with the recognition of that nobility. His company will provide the DJ and other sound services on the wedding day. “When it comes to the community, we take the position that when you are truly blessed, you quickly realize that it comes with a great responsibility to pour that blessing out into the community,” he said in an email. “In the case of Sarah and Jake, they gave entirely of themselves unselfishly and asked for nothing.” When Dexter, still in the Middle East at the time, found out about the influx of support to transform her wedding day, she said she was “shocked and amazed.” “I mean, wow,” she said. “It's been amazing because I've been able to meet these people face to face. … They just honestly want to give back to their community. … So, that's just been a blessing to see where their heart is.” In addition to Ronan, Crow and Perigeaux, 11 Calvert individuals and vendors have joined the “community wedding” effort. They are Justin Howes of Just In Time Photography; Colony South Hotel with a free night in a Honeymoon Suite; Chesapeake Church's End Hunger in Calvert County with the food preparation, serving and catering; Maertens Fine Jewelry with the wedding bands; Legacy Limousines; the Calvert Optimist Club with the tents for the reception; Floral Expressions; Clif Bridegum of Your Calvert, who created and hosted a podcast to promote the small businesses taking part; Radiant Vintage Fine Jewelry; Brian Mayer of C&F Mortgage with a cash donation; and Val Willis-Mayer as the organizer. “It's hard for me to accept help from others because I like to help other people, so to see this, it humbled me and caused me to just stop,” Dexter said. “I was pretty speechless, as I am now.” firstname.lastname@example.org