Faces of Philanthropy: Couple says "I Do" to each other and to giving back
Nov 28, 2014

By Jeff Pickering

New blender, $50. New toaster, $50. New set of steak knives, $50. All standard items on many bridal registries, but not the material possessions that Justin Leland and Carrie Acosta wanted to ask their wedding guests to spend money on.

Instead of a bridal registry, Justin and Carrie asked wedding guests to make contributions to a charitable fund they will use to support the causes they care about. As part of their wedding plans, the couple established the Justin and Carrie Leland Charitable Fund at Kern Community Foundation.

"Justin and I are not the type of people who enjoy being the center of attention," said Carrie, as she shares plans for the couple's intimate, laid-back Nov. 15 wedding. "We certainly did not want our family and close friends buying us more stuff."

In fall 2013, Justin visited Camoapa, Nicaragua on a mission trip organized by the Bakersfield Downtown Rotary Club and the nonprofit El Porvenir. The trip was planned to honor the memory of fellow Rotarian Wendy Wayne and to construct a lavanderia so local residents would have a clean place to wash clothes and take a bucket shower. The trip changed Justin's life.

"Fifty dollars is the average monthly income for a family living in Camoapa, Nicaragua, a town in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti," he said. "From various life experiences, Carrie and I realize that we can do a lot to help others, even if we just start by giving $50 or $100 bucks from time to time."

Carrie remembers the day Justin proposed marriage and the idea of establishing a charitable fund.

"It was right before a family Christmas party," Carrie said. "I spent the morning making fudge, running errands, you know the typical holiday craziness. I was taking a moment to myself, just zoning out. All of a sudden I could hear Justin talking and going down memory lane. I looked at him and saw he was kneeling. From then, it was all a blur."

"She said, 'Yes' to both (the marriage and the idea of the fund)," Justin said proudly of his proposals.

Carrie flashed her ring as proof, and added, "We've had many moments like this one that made good stories."

Another moment that "made a good story" was in February 2013, when Justin showed up to cheer on Carrie as she took the Polar Plunge in Castaic Lake to benefit Special Olympics of Southern California. Carrie's boss and parents were there, too, meeting Justin for the first time. A challenge was issued to Justin to participate the next year, and now the chilly good deed has become a family tradition.

After the wedding, the couple will make their home in Tehachapi. Justin works in management and logistics for a trucking company in Kern County, and Carrie is a deputy for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Veterans' charities and humane animal organizations are among the causes they hope to become more involved with. In time, Justin and Carrie plan to add their own contributions to their charitable fund and hope to use it as a way to teach and reinforce the value of giving back to their children.

"If we can give something of ourselves and teach our children to do the same, we think we will have done something good," Carrie said. "We cannot think of a better gift to give."

 -- Jeff Pickering is president and CEO of Kern Community Foundation and of its subsidiary Kern Real Estate Foundation. To learn more about the foundation, visit kernfoundation.org or call 616-2617.

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