Glenwood Community High School graduate Jeremiah Barns (class of 2000) and his fiancee, Becky Martin, walked into The Fountains Ballroom near Mineola to book a modest wedding in May 2011. They never dreamed that their modest wedding would turn into a $50,000 fairy tale.
“We were going to try and keep it to $10,000,” Martin said. “Then we found out they were having a contest, and we asked ‘can we get in on that even though we have already booked?”
The answer was yes. The Fountains Ballroom was one of many companies participating in Volunteer for Vows, a reality-show style contest in which couples competed by performing a variety of challenges to benefit charities in the Omaha - Council Bluffs metropolitan area. The winning couple received a wedding package worth $50,000, including a $15,000 reception from the Fountains, invitations, rehearsal dinner, a spa day for the bride and her bridesmaids, bride’s dress, bridesmaids’ dresses, tuxedos, photography, decorations, a catered dinner and disc jockey.
The event kicked off with a rally at Rockbrook Village shopping plaza in Omaha, where more than 100 couples registered for this event. The couples told the crowd their love stories and had their pictures taken.
Through a combination of e-mail “likes” and comments, Barns and Martin became one of 20 “finalist” couples to be included in the main step of charitable challenges. Barns and Martin really
enjoyed doing the charitable challenges.
“We said all along, even if we don’t win, at least we gave,” Martin said. “I had never heard of donating diapers before, but now, I will probably always donate just because I know there’s a need.”
The couples first sorted food that was donated to the Omaha Food Bank, then boxed and labeled food to be given to food pantries.
This was Barns’ favorite challenge, partly because he got to meet other volunteers for the Food Bank.
“I couldn’t believe how much food they receive, and how much food they need!” Barns said. “I would like to go back and take the boys (Martin’s two sons from a previous relationship) to the Food Bank and show them what they do and how fortunate we are.”
The couples then collected coats and other winter wear for Together Inc. This was Martin’s favorite challenge.
“This was the first challenge where we could actually see the effects of what we were doing,” Martin said.
The couple’s garage was full of winter wear, Martin’s Chevy Blazer was full of winter wear, and Martin’s mother filled her car with winter wear.
“I put an ad on Craigslist just wondering if it would work. A lady named Laura Meyers responded that she has a thrift store in Tekamah and we could come up and take anything we wanted,” Martin said.
“When we did the coat drive, I thought, ‘oh, everyone will have one or two boxes,’” said Amanda Kramer, wedding designer at the Fountains. “When these couples came in with 15 or 20 boxes, I was so surprised. I was in awe of how much these couples did.”
Martin and Barns originally planned to be married in August 2011. Barns is in the Marine Corps Reserves and has a pending deployment, so the couple wanted to be married while he is still in the area. The bigger driving force, however, was Martin’s father. Her father had cancer, and the couple wanted to be married while he was able to be at the ceremony.
Barns and Martin were united in marriage during a small ceremony at Lewis and Clark monument on Aug. 24. Martin spent $70 on a dress, Barns bought a shirt and tie. The only other expense was $30 for a marriage license. Attending the wedding were the couple’s parents; Barns brother; the couple’s minister; a witness; and Martin’s sons, Logan and Layton Manz. The family did not have a reception, but gathered for dinner at Granite City, the site of the couple’s first date.
Martin’s father died last month and Barns is expecting to be called for a deployment in the fall.
The couple’s official ceremony did not affect the contest, as it was for couples getting married the first time or couples renewing vows.
As the contest continued, Barns and Martin continued working on the charitable challenges. The challenge for them, was not so much the charitable work; their challenge was scheduling.
“We both work for the Nebraska Department of Corrections, and we have no flexibility in our schedules,” Barns said. “We do work split schedules, and that ended up working out because either she could go or I could go. Fortunately, we did not both have to be present at the challenge.”
Also helping at the challenges was Martin’s maid of honor, Randi Hamlett. Martin said she has a flexible schedule and often filled in when the couple were not available.
The final step in this contest was the viewer votes. People voted through an Omaha television station’s website. The winners were revealed at an Omaha bridal show Jan. 15.
Due to a misunderstanding, Barns and Martin almost didn’t make it to the bridal show in time to be recognized as the winners.
“That was very interesting,” Martin said. “I was having a huge problem with my e-mail, and the last information I got was to be there by 2 p.m. That day, I got a frantic phone call from Amanda Kramer (Fountains employee) at 1:30 p.m.”
Barns and Martin were having brunch when they got the call. They immediately paid for their brunch and drove quickly to Omaha’s Century Link Center. Barns dropped Martin off at the front door and went to park while Martin ran in, paid for tickets and dashed to the stage where the winners were going to be announced. With just one minute to spare, Barns ran from the parking lot to the entry door, where Kramer was waiting. The ticket clerks looked confused as Kramer waved Barns through and hustled him to the stage.
“Erin (Williams) and Amanda were basically freaking out because they already knew we had won,” Martin said. Erin Williams is one of the owners of The Fountains Ballroom.
The couple said they were happy and excited to win the contest. The $40,000 increase in their wedding budget means a lot to them.
“We were going to just have a barbeque in the backyard for a rehearsal dinner, now it is going to be catered,” Martin said. “We were going to have a friend do the photography, now that is being taken care of.”
“I know that she (Martin) really wanted a big wedding, but those are expensive,” Barns said. “This enables her to have the wedding of her dreams, and I think it’s pretty cool, too.”
“I love them,” Kramer said. “I think they are a phenomenal couple. They really love each other, they have been through a lot of personal challenges, and they have come out on top. I’m just really happy that they won.”