Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour

An Incredible Success Story

In 1991, Jeanne Wagoner and her husband, Joe, were building a home on Smith Mountain Lake. They were interested in other homes being built on the lake, and found that other people were interested in theirs.
At the same time, Jeanne was serving on the Board of Trustees of the Blue Ridge Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and looking for a fund-raising idea.
What about a home tour, she mused. It could have a special twist: You could come by car or boat.  

That spark of an idea was gently fanned to form a small planning committee. A short time later, their enthusiasm caught fire and with the help of 300 volunteers the first SML Multiple Sclerosis Home Tour was set to go in the fall of 1991.

Two weeks before the tour, a formal "black-tie" event was held to honor the homeowners and the first sponsors of the tour. The evening included elegant hors d'oeuvres, dancing and an auction.

Jeanne recalls those first pre-Tour jitters with a smile. "We hoped to raise $10,000, but I really wasn't sure anybody was going to come," she reminisced. She was wrong. That very first year, nearly 1,200 people attended the Tour and over $49,000 was raised through ticket sales, auction items and sponsorships. The Wagoners not only exceeded their initial expectations, but they lit a fire under a community of volunteers that continues to burn bright, 25 years later.

Why is Smith Mountain Lake's home tour so successful? There's no one answer.

Blankenship street viewThe tour itself is always fun. Visitors come to see the sometimes grand, sometimes glorious, sometimes simple, always unusual-unique-interesting lifestyles of the homeowners on the lake. Touring by boat and enjoying the 500 miles of shoreline on the cool lake waters is a special delight. Decorating ideas, remodeling schemes, landscaping techniques and building designs are plentiful and interesting to see. The price is reasonable, a ticket is good for all three days, one pass through each of the eight homes. And the money really does go to charity.

An organizing force of over 1,200 volunteers plan and conduct the Tour events. There are no paid employees. Most of the materials used in the production of the tour are donated or heavily discounted. For six years, all of the money raised by the home tour went to the Blue Ridge Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Then in 1997, the Tour organizers at the lake elected their own board of directors to manage the Tour's activities. They selected Jeanne as president of the newly formed Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour, and added two local charities to share in the proceeds. Subsequently, seven local area charities were chosen each year by a committee of clergy to share the Tour money with the MS Society.

The charities chosen to share in the proceeds from the Tour include organizations to help the hungry, the sick, the challenged, the aged, the homeless, and to offer emergency assistance. A representative of one of the 2013 selected charities summed up the Home Tour's impact on his organization's' operations: "There is no end to the challenges and opportunities available to charities in our community. Thanks to the Home Tour, we will be able to move forward with needed programs and services, now and in the future."

For the past several years, much of the financial success of the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour has been due to its sponsors. Based on the amount of their donation, business and individual sponsors receive varying levels of acknowledgment during the Home Tour promotions. The generosity of these individuals and businesses, many of whom are involved in home decorating, design, building, landscaping or other services used by the homeowners, accounts for more than half of the proceeds shared by the participating charities.  

Since that first home opened its doors 26 years ago, nearly $4 million has been raised for the lake communities' charities. In 2017, we will have another eight beautiful homes on tour. From the volunteers, sponsors, homeowners, residents and visitors, the people who support the Home Tour will again determine our success. Be part of that success--volunteer, donate and buy tickets. We hope to see you on Columbus Day weekend in October at beautiful Smith Mountain Lake!