- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

The neighborhood where Ann Dorman and her husband live is serene. In their house, it's an entirely different story.
With only three days left to prepare for New Year's Eve, Mrs. Dorman is busy checking and rechecking her arrangements.
Mrs. Dorman is the founder of Meetings and Events of Distinction, an event-planning company that she runs out of her house. Her husband also runs his own association management business there. This year, they have pooled their talents into organizing Alexandria's First Night festivities. Mrs. Dorman is executive director of First Night Alexandria this year, while Mr. Dorman is serving as executive vice president.
While another woman on the First Night staff has the job of recruiting volunteers and another person handles the media, it's up to Mrs. Dorman to plan the events.
Much of her day is spent on the phone, confirming existing appointments and setting up new ones. She finds the caterers who will provide food to the volunteer staff and the graphic designers who will create the pins and programs. Finding talent for the evening is a much easier task.
"They all seem to come to me," she says.
First Night festivities originated in Boston in 1976 as a family-oriented carnival alternative to traditional New Year's Eve parties.
This year, thousands of people are expected to brave cold temperatures and late bedtimes to ring in the new year in Alexandria.
The entertainment will range from face-painters and puppeteers for children to music from country and folk music to Hawaiian swing, jazz and bluegrass for the adults. Shops and restaurants along King Street and its side streets will be open.
A huge fireworks display, as well as what Mrs. Dorman will call only "a surprise," will cap the festivities at midnight. Alexandria's last First Night pulled an unofficial crowd of 4,000 when it was held in 2000. First Night Alexandria began in 1994.
Mrs. Dorman's office is tucked into the second-floor stairwell landing of her house. She started her company in March 2000 and says planning First Night fits the mold of the type of business she wants to run.
"When I formed my own company, I decided I wanted to focus more on Alexandria," she says. Mrs. Dorman plans an array of events, from conventions to fund-raisers.
The organization of this year's First Night Alexandria, which is staffed by volunteers and is a nonprofit organization, will be no small feat. During the past month, Mrs. Dorman has been logging 15-hour days plus weekends to get her job done. She has a budget of $112,000, which includes payment of performers.
Because of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the recession, 21 cities, including some in Frederick and Montgomery counties, have scrapped their First Night plans. Alexandria didn't have a First Night celebration last year because of a lack of funds.
"The fact that we didn't have one last year allows us to do a lot of reinventing," she says. "We are doing a lot of creating now that we wouldn't have had to do in the past."
It looked early on as though this year's celebration would be difficult to pull off.
"We started planning furiously" in May, Mrs. Dorman says. "When we started talking to people in July and August, no one was interested in talking to us. Then September 11 came around, and no one wanted to plan anything for a month, and then 'Hello, we're in October.' New Year's is just around the corner."
But by the end of the long Christmas weekend, First Night Alexandria sold about 1,200 First Night pins for $10, which allow customers to gain admission. The pins will sell for $15 the night of the celebration.
"We decided to move ahead with it," she says.
But she is unsure if First Night Alexandria will be repeated next year.
"Unless individuals and businesses realize that this costs a lot of money and they need to support First Night with their money, there won't be any more First Nights," she says.
Mrs. Dorman had worked for various associations for the past 20 years before she decided to start her own business. She said she remembered what it was like to work for someone who owned their own business.
"I thought, 'How can my boss do all of this?' and I thought it was a control issue. I realized when I started my own business that it's not a control issue, it's just you're responsible for getting everything done."
Soon, having her own business became the only option.
"I love running my own business," she says. "You work for someone for so long, and you get promoted into management. I realized I wasn't doing the hands-on work that I loved."
But there are pitfalls to being your own boss.
"Sometimes I'll wake up at 3 a.m., and say, 'Oh my God. I forgot to do this.' And then there's no sleep after that," she says.
"I have everything here, and if I need to do something at 8 p.m., I can do it."

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