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Couple cancels wedding, gives back instead

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(CNN)”Shocked and frozen.” Those are two words that Mark and Ismini Svensson say perfectly describe their families’ reaction to their unique wedding plans.

Instead of having a typical ceremony, complete with cake and family photos, the couple chose a different path: To celebrate their love by sharing good deeds across the country with people they’d never met.

For past two years, the newlyweds have been spending their wedding budget to perform one act of kindness in each of the 50 states. The Svenssons plan to complete their mission this spring.

The New York-based couple met as students, while attending Georgetown University. They say it was their mutual love of volunteerism and community activism that drew them together.

“It just clicked,” says Mark Svensson. “We both had this passion within us.”

While in the midst of selecting a venue for a more traditional wedding ceremony, they had a change of heart.

“We were actually planning a big wedding reception and honeymoon,” Ismini says. “We realized that our way of celebrating our love would be different, and we came up with 50 Acts of Giving Back.”

For Ismini, the idea of sharing goodwill in place of a wedding also became a special way to honor the legacy of her father, a civil engineer and philanthropist who taught her the importance of making a difference.

“50 Acts of Giving Back” is a tribute to Ismini’s father, Apostolos Karydis, who passed away while helping others.
“The father of the bride plays important role on the wedding day, and I realized my father wouldn’t be there.”

Ismini says her father suddenly passed away from heart attack while hosting a charity event that gave college scholarships to underserved youth. At that event, Ismini’s father delivered his last speech — focusing on the importance of love and the importance of giving back.

So, Mark and Ismini ditched the idea of a formal wedding. No flower bouquet was tossed. No speeches were made, and no family pictures taken. The New York couple quietly exchanged vows at a courthouse.

They named their mission, “50 Acts of Giving Back” and took to Facebook and Twitter for suggestions of where to go. Soon the couple was overwhelmed with responses. They say each stated visited was the result of an online discussion.

After sharing their idea on social media, their friends and followers echoed the message through Facebook shares and retweets. Using the hashtag #50Acts, the Svenssons say they were contacted by people across the country in need of their support. What started as a way to honor the legacy of Ismini’s father became an online campaign to promote the couple’s first love: volunteerism.

“Social media, whether it’s a post or a tweet, can impact your world,” Mark says. “It may seem small, but it can go a long way.”

After hearing of their initiative, Mark and Ismini say others were so inspired by their story, people began to donate to their cause. The couple continued to self-fund “50 Acts of Giving Back” but used the monetary donations to start a nonprofit, StayUNITED. This way they would be able to continue their charitable work once their 50 state journey was completed.

After selecting a location with the help of their online friends, the Svenssons rented a car and drove to each state. Although challenging, it became the Svenssons best way to travel as they soon learned they were expecting their first child! After their daughter Rafealla was born, the couple hit the road again with her in the backseat.

“She became a part of this journey. She was always with us,” Ismini says. “Everybody loved her. The baby became like the little mascot.”

In Asheville, North Carolina, they brought flowers and presents to patients suffering from cancer. In Aramillo, Texas they assisted elderly men and women with grocery shopping. In Connecticut, the couple participated in an adaptive sports camp for children with disabilities. At the conclusion of the camp, the couple says they presented gifts to the children.

In North Carolina, Mark and Ismini visited Leanne Hand, who suffered from stage four lung cancer. She has since passed away but the Svenssons keep in touch with her family.
“Because of all the support received from all over the U.S., we realized this journey is much bigger than a wedding,” Ismini says.

Although rewarding, the couple admits there were challenges. In addition to handling the daily tasks of having a newborn, Mark and Ismini balanced worked schedules as well. Working in a family business allowed them the flexibility to travel, but they say coordination was key.

“Some states you literally have to drive seven hours just to get to the next area,” Mark commented. “It’s definitely something you have to be mentally prepared for.”

The couple’s next move? The Midwest, Pacific Northwest, Hawaii and Alaska. They hope to wrap up their journey by spring of 2015.

“We believe in a chain reaction of kindness,” Ismini says. “It’s all about realizing us doing our part in something much bigger than ourselves and giving back.”

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