SMG 2014 Dallas Habitat for Humanity Build – Day 3


Studio Movie Grill Supports the Walk to End Lupus Now

LFA logoTwo days before Thanksgiving 2012, I was just four weeks into my job at Studio Movie Grill when my boss and I went through one of the most insane bonding circumstances you could possibly ever appreciate but wish on no one.

Trying to prove myself as a new employee I had stayed in Dallas to work while my family had packed up the car and driven off to Chicago to have Thanksgiving with my sister and my friends had all scattered off to wherever their families were.  I had the most terrible migraine of my life, and I suffered through, taking Tylenol every few hours until 6pm when my workday was over and it was finally time to go home.

But I never made it home that night.  A feverish, nauseated, floaty feeling took over my body and I steered my car directly into the parking lot of the closest urgent care provider on my path.  I made my way to their front desk to check in, but before I could say anything, I broke into a cold sweat and collapsed.  They determined that the amount Tylenol I had consumed throughout the day while toughing things out was enough that I had accidentally poisoned myself.  How embarrassing!

The urgent care would not let me leave their office unless it was in an ambulance or the care of an adult with a car who would sign a release promising that he or she was taking me directly to the ER.  The only person I knew in town with a car that might even consider taking me to the ER was . . . my new boss.

Kind soul that she was, she came and signed me out, and patiently pulled over on the side of the road and waited as I got out of her car to vomit in the grass at least twice.  Once we made it to the Emergency Room, she didn’t just drop me off, but stayed by my side to see me through my predicament.

Luckily, I was able to vomit out most of what was poisoning me before the ER doctors got involved, but the question still remained about the cause of my immense and persistent pain as well as what to do about it.  To make me more comfortable, they administered IV morphine, which was not strong enough so they administered something even stronger. 

Once the pain was quelled enough that I could concentrate to answer their questions, the diagnostic process began, and the doctor decided to do a spinal tap to determine if I was a victim of a recent spinal meningitis outbreak.  This was a procedure my boss and I had only seen on TV and in movies, and I was terrified because the needle was every bit as long and menacing as I had seen in old episodes of ER. 

To her credit, my boss was a stalwart and comforting companion, who never left the room, even for a moment, until the tests were complete and my parents had answered their cell phones to learn what was going on with me while they were out of town.

The fear and anxiety we shared in that room as well as the relief at my recovery has bonded us in a way that we were like instant family, the kind of relationship that I had never had with any boss, and the kind of bond formed out of a moment I hope I never have to share with anyone else ever again.

In the ten months that followed this crazy night, I had a series of other strange and painful or temporarily debilitating symptoms that led my rheumatologist, as part of a fleet of specialists under the keen orchestration of my primary care physician, to diagnose me with Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (also known as SLE or Lupus).

Once diagnosed, I began the journey of learning to live with this chronic ailment, which meant lifestyle changes and adjustment to the idea that I was not just allergic to lots of things or prone to getting the flu. I had to learn to accept that there are days when things that were easy one day could become impossibly difficult on another.  My antibodies were not recognizing cells in parts of my body as normal healthy parts of me and they would attack different parts of my body at different times, so I had to prepare myself for anything.

When we discovered that my SLE was photosensitive to UVA rays from the sun and even fluorescent lighting, my boss supported me by getting UV filters put over the bulbs in my office and hers.  When I started getting medication infusions as part of my treatment, she got me a laptop so that I could work from the infusion clinic while I was hooked up to an IV.  But this is not the end of the support that I have gotten from my boss and my SMG family.

Apart from family and from work, another great resource I found to help me cope with my diagnosis and the activity of my lupus was the Lupus Foundation of North Texas (LFANT), where I found a support group that allowed me to listen to other patients’ stories and learn from how they dealt with the struggles their lupus caused for them so that I could find hope and strategies for dealing with an illness that it seems almost no one understands unless they have it or care for someone who has it.

It was a place where stories were shared and ideas were brainstormed for solving problems or information could be found.  I met people who understood what I was going through and people who offered hope, advice and solutions for this incurable disease that was wreaking havoc on my body and my life.  These people inspired me to believe that I am not defined as a person with lupus, but rather, my lupus was just something I deal with.  The foundation and the friends I met there have empowered me to get the help I needed and to take back ownership of my life.

And now, that organization that has done so much for me is preparing to launch one of it’s annual fundraisers – The Walk to End Lupus Now, from which funds will be donated to research that will help us find better treatments and possibly one day a cure.  I cannot express how much it means to me that my Studio Movie Grill family is choosing to support my LFANT family by offering a year of free movies as the prize to the walker who collects the most donated funds.

The Walk to End Lupus Now will take place in Grand Prairie, TX on April 6, 2014.

For more information on the Walk to End Lupus Now, or to join the Walk, please visit

SMG Brings Movie Night to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Egleston

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

Studio Movie Grill has had an ongoing relationship with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and last month, that relationship became even more personal to SMG employees when they hand delivered toys from the Show You Care Bear drive directly to children in the hospital.

Following that outreach event, SMG Holcomb manager, Wayne Simpson recounts an initiative taken on by some staff members eager to keep giving to their community:


Garrett Ivie of Studio Movie Grill Holcomb donned a self-made Iron Man costume for Movie Night at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“From the contact we made delivering the Teddy Bears last month we were invited back to host a movie day for the young patients.


SMG Supervisor Karen Lopez, Server Sharon Orina, Manager Wayne Simpson, and Iron Man stop to pose for a photo.

One of our team members, Garrett Ivie, who was very creative, had made an Iron Man costume which he wore during our premier.  Birdie and I asked him to come today, as well as our Supervisor Karen Lopez, Server Sharon Orina to host the movie day for the kids.

There were so many stories today from patients we encountered at the hospital.  One young boy about 5 told Iron Man that he was his biggest fan and gave Garrett a big hug.  We encountered another group in the cafeteria having a cake.  Thinking it was their birthday, I brought our Iron Man over to their table.

After getting their pictures taken with Iron Man, one of them asked us to wait and then ran around the corner to the chapel coming back with his 30-40 year old son.  The man introduced us to his son, saying that this [son] was his Iron Man.

After posing with Garrett, the son told us how his son had lost his battle with cancer that morning and how Garrett had cheered him by being there.  So many of the kids ran up to meet him today.  It was amazing to put a smile on so many of those young kids for what has to be a difficult time in their lives.

Iron Man poses with doctors at Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta.

Iron Man poses with doctors at Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta.

I’m a very proud of our team and was humbled to have the privilege of being there as well.

We have made a commitment from our team here at Holcomb to host their movie day once a month.  From our end we are providing little gift baskets for the kids and simply being present to them to greet them and give them the baskets after the movie.  We may do some other costumed characters in the future as it was such a positive experience for the children.”

Iron Man and his two heroes in training

Iron Man and his two heroes in training

SMG Wheaton Chef Castano Penn on SMG Chefs for Children


SMG Chef Castano Penn initiated the SMG Chefs for Children program in April, 2013. 5% of the proceeds from Chefs for Children menu items are donated to nonprofits aiding families with special needs children.

Being a chef and feeding others isn’t just about food – for me, it’s also always been a way to nurture people. I can show someone I’m thinking about them by preparing their favorite dish, taking into account an allergy, or preparing a dish for someone who has recently been sick or stressed out.

This perspective is what spurred me to create the SMG Chefs for Children program. Chefs are creative and nurturing folks – what better way to combine the two than this program which allows our chefs to create their own specials all while helping kids in their own communities?

This program is personal to me. My five year old son is autistic. My wife and I are so fortunate that there has been so much more research done in this area and we are grateful for the programs that help our son reach his ultimate potential. Children deserve amazing opportunities and I thought this program could be my small way of saying, “You’re important, we care about you, and we’re going to do what we can to help!”

I’m thrilled that SMG home office was receptive to my idea and I am really happy with the energy with which this program has been greeted! I look forward to more charitable partnering in the future!

Giving a Birthday Gift to the World

When I was a kid, my mom used to let me skip school on my birthday with her and we would go together and work on a house for Habitat for Humanity or help out at a soup kitchen or food bank as what we called my “birthday gift back to the world.”

I think that it was a great thing for my mom to instill in me from childhood, the importance of giving back to the community.

It’s a quality that I have strived to bring with me into every business I’ve worked for over the course of my career, and what I didn’t know all those years is that I was contributing toward a special growing sector of the business world that is now referred to as “Conscious Capitalism.”

At my first real job in college, I sold used cars and volunteered for the Kirksville Humane Society, so I brought together the two for my first PR event – Puppies, Kittens and Cars.  My dealership gave a voucher for $250 off a used car for any pet adopted or 50lbs. of pet food donated to the Humane Society.  Since the shelter was way out in the boonies, I got the Truman State Alpha Gamma Delta Sisters to bring puppies and kittens out to the dealership and supervise them for the day so that people could come adopt them at our lot on the town’s main street.

Now, some 13 years later, I have joined Studio Movie Grill as a member of the Outreach team and am excited to announce that they are actively practicing Conscious Capitalism,  so I feel like I am continuing my birthday gift to the world in my new role.  When we opened our newest theater in Duluth, Georgia, we did some amazing charitable events to mark our Grand Opening.

We had a Toys for Tots event with Gandalf and the Hobbits available to wrap holiday gifts for people who donated a toy, and we did a big jail dogs event with a James Bond screening where we invited the Duluth shelter to sell dog biscuits to raise funds for their efforts and donated an auditorium, staffing and 100% of ticket proceeds to a special advance screening.  We also worked with 11Alive to do our  “Cans Film Festival,” to collect canned goods for the local food bank.

But Duluth isn’t the only location where we’ve done fun things like this.  We strive to do them at every location.   Each theater manager is challenged to do a charitable event of their choosing every quarter.  Our Wheaton location recently partnered with Relay for Life and donated 97% of the proceeds from a special screening of Lincoln to the American Cancer Society.

We can’t always do big events because we still have dinner-and-a-movie theaters to run, but we keep outreach constantly on our minds, and we strive to do something every month.  Our most popular recurring outreach event is our Special Needs Screenings, when we invite parents of kids with autism and other special needs to come see a first run film at which the child and his or her siblings get in for free, which encourages families to attend together.  If you’d like to learn more about our Special Needs programs, you can find the information on the Family Page of the SMG Website

As we begin 2013, we have a new year and a new location preparing to open, so I can’t wait to participate in our next birthday gift to the world in a new city and state and practice Conscious Capitalism .