Alyssa Belanger

Alyssa Belanger started her event-planning business in 2019.

It was an “amazing year,” she said. Then the pandemic came, and it’s been “a crazy time to be an event planner” since.

She only had a handful of events in 2020, and so far this year she’s done several indoor corporate events and backyard b’nai mitzvah, anniversary and birthday parties.

About 18 months into the pandemic and eight months after the first vaccine was federally approved, Belanger said she is beginning to see events requiring individuals prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We’re starting to see kind of some — I don’t want to use the word segregation — but I don’t know what other word to use,” she said. “Right now it’s going to be: proceed with caution.”

Her calendar for October is nearly fully booked. “I think that in the back of their minds, too, everybody knows that we’re not totally out of the woods, and that we need to be mindful,” she said.

Belanger, 40, has been a long-time event planner within the Jewish community. She started a Jewish singles networking group in 2006 called Tribe Arizona “for Heebs who want to hang,” and later started Tribe for Tots, a group for Jewish parents and their young kids. In May, she teamed up with Jennifer Starrett to form TribeNet, a Jewish professional networking group. The group is holding its first event Aug. 31.

Belanger spoke with Jewish News about her career path, The Event Genies and the future of the events industry as the pandemic continues.

What have events looked like during the pandemic?

We did a bat mitzvah in January, in the thick of it, and the family was able to test everybody before they came in, so that was a huge help. We sat people at tables of who they came with, so if you’re a family of four, you sat at a table with your family of four. It was a lot more tables and kind of double the work, but we were able to have a successful event, where, to my knowledge, nobody got sick.

Coming up in October, 75% of the events are outside, and some might end up being smaller than planned. If things continue on the path that they are, there’s a possibility out-of-town guests won’t want to travel or venues may have restrictions on their capacity.

How have you managed?

I’ve been super fortunate. My clients have been amazing to work with, and we’ve been able to work together to come up with alternative options. My vendors have been flexible and very accommodating. They have done everything possible to work with my clients, whether it be refunding or choosing an alternative date.

The key to navigating during this time is truly to be flexible. I will always do whatever it takes to accommodate my clients’ wishes. We all just have to be patient, roll with the punches and be kind to one another.

What does the future hold for the events industry given where we are in the pandemic?

I wish I had a magic ball that I could look at and answer that question. I think events can be held. We just need to be mindful of people’s health and safety. At the end of the day it is a choice to attend an event. It’s going to get very interesting here with mandating people to be vaccinated in order to go to events. And I’m starting to see that — at least some public events are saying that you need to show proof of vaccination. I am part of a b’nai mitzvah group online where now some parties are actually saying that they are requiring all their guests to be vaccinated. It will be interesting to see what happens with future events.

How did you get into this career?

I always knew that this was the route I was going to take. Growing up, I was very involved in BBYO. Back in the day, you were able to do a lot more hands-on learning. For example, you could just call the local supermarket and get donations of sodas and food. Or call Party City and convince them to donate balloons. There are so many more hoops to jump through nowadays.

I did a lot of the logistics and planning for our parties when we were teenagers, and it was just something that I really enjoyed doing. As I got older, people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up and I thought, I really like people, parties, taking charge and helping facilitate everything around me. It was just great experiences that led me to go in that direction.

I’m originally from Boston and my family and I had vacationed in Arizona and I really liked it out here and decided I wanted to go to ASU. Sure enough, they had a program in recreation and tourism.

What made you launch your own business, Event Genies?

I don’t know why I didn’t launch my own business sooner — I worked for a medical company doing all their trade shows and sales meetings, and I was very comfortable and I still do work for them. Life was kind of crazy between getting married and having kids and my mom was sick. My hands were full and it just wasn’t time. I’m a big believer in faith — things happen for a reason — and as much as I love being everyone’s maid of honor and friend of a friend that can help with event planning, I got to the point where I thought, “I should be getting paid for this, and I really need to establish some boundaries and create a business.”

What have you learned as a business owner?

I have learned so much. I have learned a lot about contracts and negotiating. I have learned to be even more patient than I already am. I am always learning and growing. This is a creative business and has endless possibilities.

As a business owner you do the best you can do. I try to be very authentic and genuine, and I’m working really hard on trying to have better boundaries. I care a lot about what I do and I always do want to go the extra mile.

But the busier I’m getting, it’s hard to always have extra time for every single person. And with family life, it’s definitely a balance. I’m working a lot more on the weekends, so my husband hangs with the kids. And, the older I get, working long days and night shifts is harder on me. I have to come home and take a bath just to be able to walk the next day after being on my feet for 15 hours.

How is Event Genies set up?

My clients work directly with me and I have a handful of staff that work events or assist with research. When I was at ASU I had an internship through the Recreation and Tourism Department and I am so excited that I now offer an internship through the same department. I currently have an amazing intern named Savannah and have loved working with her. I am always looking for staff that want to assist me on event days.

How did you choose the name of your business?

Coming up with a name was challenging. I really wanted a creative name that explained what I do. I strive to create unique and custom events — I’ve never done the same event twice. I constantly am looking for new ideas and educating myself on what’s out there, and up-and-coming trends. That’s really the fun part: Getting to know my client and what their vision is, and making it a reality.

I also like personal touches, and things that set you apart from somebody else — coming up with meaningful and memorable moments. The Event Genies ended up being the perfect fit; it captures that I try to make magic happen. JN