On September 28, 2019, Alicia Jenelle Events, a full-service boutique wedding and event planning firm based in Toronto put on a special 50th birthday party for their client, Karla Stephens-Tolstoy.
But the event wasn’t your typical birthday party – where balloons and confetti surround the birthday girl with cake and candles. Instead, the day was about everyone BUT the birthday girl according to Alicia Jenelle.
“Our client, Karla, is a stage four cancer patient. She came to our firm determined to celebrate her 50th birthday with 200 of her closest female friends and family. She was not like any other client, she wanted to build her event concept around her guests to empower them to feel love, strength, and a deep connection with one’s inner being. In an effort to provide a carefully curated space for self-discovery, and self-love, we created a day filled with workshops focused around these topics, and an evening of celebration and love, all leading towards re-building a stronger self,” Jenelle said.
The event was titled the “Circle of Strength” to symbolize the ongoing energy found in nature as well as “the notions of totality, wholeness, original perfection, the Self, the infinite, eternity, timelessness [and] all cyclic movement.”
The event took place at Karla’s mansion just off the coast of Lake Ontario where they were promptly greeted with organic champagne and custom name badges.
From there, comedian Adrienne Fish kicked off the day with a warm, and funny welcome. Then, guests were treated to a group meditation to help get them in the right mindset for the workshops.
Following the group meditation, the workshops began, all with their own purpose that tied back to the theme. The workshops were titled: I am, I am Vulnerable, I am Grateful, and I am Loved. Each focused on a different emotion so guests were encouraged to explore their inner feelings that addressed their fears, their purpose, their needs, and their wants.
One special feature that stuck out for organizers was the letters Karla wrote that were read out loud by the speakers before the workshops began.
“Because of the cancer, Karla’s immune system is susceptible to getting sickness easily, so her interaction with guests had to be minimal,” explained Jenelle. “However, she still wanted to be highly involved in the workshops. So before the event, she wrote letters to be read out to the guests before each workshop, so the women she chose to invite could feel connected to her on a more personal level.”
According to Jenelle, Karla used to be a CEO for a huge company in the Czech Republic and so was very used to taking care of a team.
“So she took that same mentality and applied it to this gathering when it came to the care packages that all guests received,” Jenelle said. “Inside the care packages were a plethora of gifts for guests so that they could feel supported through the day. There were tissues so they felt it was okay if they cried during the workshops, there were ponchos in case of bad weather, hand sanitizer, lip balm, and specially-made necklaces.”
Food and beverage for the event was very important, said Jenelle, as it had to be on theme, so spiritually cleansing.
“We wanted to make sure the food was super healthy, but still had flavour,” she said. “And we wanted to make sure women with any restrictions had something to eat. We had every kind of option – gluten-free, vegan, you name it.”
Food was constantly available for guests throughout the day and night so they could replenish or nosh whenever they felt like they had to.
In the evening, there was a more activity-based celebration that included guests connecting with a medium, access to reiki, and a tarot card reader. There was also eclectic entertainment and an entire enchanted forest in Karla’s backyard.
The whole day and night put every guest through all the ups and downs of the emotions they felt. According to Jenelle, “there were tears, there was laughter, there was gratitude, there was love, there was connection. It was very surreal.”
At the evening’s close, guests gathered together to sing Happy Birthday to Karla as fireworks went off in the sky.
Planning by: Alicia Jenelle Events
Submitted by: Alicia Jenelle, founder, lead event manager, Alicia Jenelle Events
Event: The Circle of Strength
Venue: Client’s personal home off the coast of Lake Ontario
Lori Johnson & KJC Entertainment
Nulink Media – Nicole Athanasolopous
Kerr Street Café
Meghan Yuri Young & Jessica De Bruyn
Designer – Graphics & Installations
Sculptor & Prop Builder
Day Time Workshop Facilitators
Adrienne Fish (Emcee), Melissa Ramos (I Am My Poop), Ria Ray (I Am), Maristela Beckman (I Am Grateful), Sandra Dowek (I Am Loved) and Judith Cline (I Am Vulnerable)
Evening Workshop Facilitators
Patty Mac (Medium), Melaina Gasbarrino (Reiki), and Andrea Barclay (Tarot)
Circle of Support Healers
Lori Simeunovic (Tarot), Stephanie Hall (RMT) and GTA Mobile Massage