Steve Liebenhaut “was one of those people who came in the door and you’d automatically write him a check for $200,” says Greg Garrison, owner of The Hop Ice Cream Cafe.
Liebenhaut’s interest in providing a voice for nonprofits began in earnest in 2008. For his 50th birthday, he threw a celebration at The Grey Eagle — dubbed An Eagle Flies on Sunday — to raise money for a local nonprofit organization. Its success led Liebenhaut to use each subsequent birthday as an opportunity to generate funding for other local groups. Organizations supported by his efforts include Our VOICE, Loving Food Resources and the WNC Advocacy League.
It was through these fundraisers that Garrison met Liebenhaut. “He always touted that he never put on an event that didn’t make money,” remembers Garrison. “He had really strong support in the community.”
Over the years, The Hop became one of Liebenhaut’s main supporters. Garrison not only wrote checks but supplied ice cream for events and offered Liebenhaut advice on social media platforms as well as general consulting. In 2010, the two men partnered for their first event, raising money for Big Brothers, Big Sisters at the Jewish Community Center. “That sort of solidified the relationship we had already started and made it a little bit deeper,” says Garrison.
Diagnosed with cancer in 2014, Liebenhaut died on July 2, 2016. At the time of his death, Garrison and Liebenhaut were in the midst of their final collaboration, Helping Others, a project Garrison says, “was and is going to be focused more on programs for kids.”
On Thursday, Aug. 11, The Hop will host its first iteration of the effort, which has since been renamed: Helping Others in Honor of Uncle SteveNyou. The latter half of the name calls attention to both the man and the organization he founded, SteveNyou Presents — a coordinating company that helped raise funds for and awareness of a variety of nonprofits.
Helping Others’ inaugural event will highlight and benefit Asheville Music School, which got its start in 1996 as a for-profit before restructuring as a nonprofit in 2012 in order to have a greater reach and impact on the community. “We have seven student ensembles in all types of genres,” says Charlotte Sommers, executive director of Asheville Music School. “We go out to community sites and do free performances and free group classes.”
The organization’s main program is private music lessons — it serves more than 300 students with 35 teachers. “We teach every instrument known to mankind,” says Sommers. “And that includes the didgeridoo.”
The nonprofit also provides need-based scholarships for families who can’t afford private lessons. Since it shifted to 501(c)3 status, Asheville Music School has offered over $30,000 in scholarships, with $12,000 set aside for this year’s budget.
The school is also working on an instrument library. “This will allow us to loan out instruments to families who can’t afford to rent or buy them right off the bat,” says Sommers.
The first Helping Others in Honor of Uncle SteveNyou event will include live musical performances by teenage Asheville Music School students Christina Thompson, Abigail Earley and Nilah Wharton, as well as a presentation by Gabrielle Tee, the school’s program director. The acoustic set will incorporate ukulele, guitars and vocals.
Garrison will also lead a Q&A session with the organization. “We want to give them a platform to be able to speak,” he says. “We’ll have a list of questions that go deeper than mission statement and face-value stuff and let them share what they’re passionate about.” The Hop will donate 50 percent of its sales during the hour-long event to Asheville Music School.
Garrison is in the process of scheduling the next round of Helping Others in Honor of Uncle SteveNyou events. His goal is to host a gathering every other month at The Hop’s Merrimon Avenue location. The focus, he says, will continue to be on family-related nonprofits.
Garrison sees the ongoing series as a chance to bring awareness to nonprofits in the area, and each gathering is an opportunity for the community to remember Liebenhaut. “This is what his passion was for eight years,” says Garrison. “Steve’s idea was to have a conversation where we could really get into what the nonprofit was doing. He wanted to make an opportunity to really learn about the people behind the scenes — the passion behind the volunteers. It’s important not just for me personally to carry it on, but for all those people that he had a positive impact on to continue that love.”