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The cause and the challenge: Choosing the right charity

The cause and the challenge: Choosing the right charity

At first glance, the 187-acre West Laurel Hill Cemetery & Funeral Home in Bala Cynwyd appears to support a hodgepodge of local nonprofits to the tune of $90,000 a year in donations and partnership support. Look closer, though, and each has a tie-in to the cemetery.

Some are obvious. West Laurel Hill supports restoration work at Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery, for example.

Others, not so much. “Some of them, you have to think a little bit outside of the box,” said Deborah Cassidy, director of sales and marketing for the cemetery.

Take the Wayne Art Center. West Laurel Hill, also being recognized for its financial contributions at the Corporate Philanthropy event, sponsors the art center’s Plein Air Festival, a national juried exhibition, with a murder-mystery dinner and theater event.

West Laurel Hill Cemetery & Funeral Home holds an Easter egg hunt that benefits Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

“The reason it’s a good fit,” Cassidy said, “is because you come into our cemetery and the architecture and beauty here fall under the whole art world.” West Laurel Hill, one year shy of its 150th anniversary, is known for its historic and elaborate grave markers of prominent families and its impressive mausoleums.

Or the Independent Business Alliance, the Philadelphia-area’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Cassidy noted that at one time, gay people were not allowed to plan funerals for their partners because they were not legally married. “We wanted to help them make a difference in Harrisburg or Washington with respect to gay marriage,” she said.

Or the Lower Merion Conservancy and the Sustainable Business Network. West Laurel Hill has a natural burial meadow and sustainability initiatives. And so on.

Of course, the cemetery has to carefully consider its partnerships, perhaps more than most, given its solemn purpose.

“We’re very, very careful about the events we’re going to have here,” Cassidy said. “We make sure it’s not morbid. We wouldn’t do vampires or ghost hunters.”

The murder-mystery event, she noted, is perhaps the “edgiest” activity on the grounds. “We hold it in the conservatory,” she said, “not on the graves.”

Ultimately, it’s about participating in the community, being a good neighbor, Cassidy said. “We want families we serve and community members to know we’re not just here when a death has occurred,” she said.

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