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Norfolk Welcomes the Noblemen Zoofest

It was here one day. Then gone the next. People have asked: “What ever happened to the Norfolk Zoo-To-Do?”

For those in the know, the Norfolk Zoo-To-Do, later becoming the “Rock and Roar” (but that name didn’t seem to catch on) was one of the most anticipated charity events for supporters of the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk. And, naturally, for those of us who are always keen for a “dress up” party (particularly if the attire involves animal print). A few years ago, organizers went in a different direction and did away with the Zoo-To-Do. Much to the disappointment of the more than 1,000 attendees the event had attracted in its heyday.

We’re ecstatic to announce that the Zoo-To-Do is back! Well… sort of.

“Zoofesters” enjoy opportunity to dress up and socialize at 2012 Noblemen Zoofest (Photo credit: Kennesha Walker)

“Animal inspired” or beach-wear encouraged! (Photo credit: Kennesha Walker)

On August 18, the philanthropic organization known as the Noblemen launched Zoofest at the Virginia Zoo. But, not for the reason the exuberant revelers who attended the re-birth that night, clad in “animal inspired” outfits (or some semblance), might think.

Sure, the nostalgia of Zoo-To-Do played a big part. Sure, as with the “To-Do” there was plenty to eat. There was plenty to drink. The music played all night long. Indeed, a good time was had by all.

(Photo Credit: Kennesha Walker)

(Photo credit: Kennesha Walker)

No. Zoofest had a bigger purpose. One would say, a “Noble” purpose.

Since the Noblemen began more than 12 years ago in Virginia Beach as a fledgling charity group known as “The Robin Hoods of Virginia,” the Noblemen have given away hundreds of thousands of dollars to help local children in need. Along the way, the Noblemen have garnered the admiration and respect of numerous business, political, and community leaders.

Virginia Beach has been good to the Noblemen. And, the Noblemen have been good to Virginia Beach.

Why the success?

Because the Noblemen have a simple, winning formula: Have fun. Do good. Be noble. And most importantly… Build relationships.

The Noblemen are looking to export that formula of success to Norfolk.

Enter Zoofest.

Revelers take to the stage at Zoofest (Photo credit: Kennesha Walker)

Characters add to the fun at Zoofest (Photo credit: Kennesha Walker)

“We are known in Virginia Beach, and we are successful in Virginia Beach,” said Al Midgett, CEO and Founder of The Noblemen. “We know we can do some ‘noble’ things here in Norfolk, but we have a ways to go. Zoofest is an exciting first step.”

Midgett, who is also a first time author, having recently penned Normal to Noble (a book about his journey into the world of philanthropy) hopes launching Zoofest will demonstrate to Norfolkians that the Noblemen are serious about building relationships with would-be supporters, and being part of the community.

The Noblemen, who already have a small, but growing presence in Norfolk hope that reviving a popular Norfolk event that has strong name recognition, and putting their unique “Presented by the Noblemen” stamp on the event will help with introductions.

“Norfolk is the hub,” Midgett explained. “There is no reason why we should not have a stronger presence here, so we looked at how we could make a statement, and this event, I think will make a statement.”

According to Midgett, no one played a bigger role in helping launch Zoofest than Norfolk’s own Robert Soble, whom Midgett has affectionately nicknamed “Noble Soble.”

“If anyone can help us build relationships, it’s Robert,” Midgett said. “Zoofest could not have happened without him.”

Robert Soble, a Commissioner on the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority since 2004 helped to establish Harborfest, Festevents, and Virginia Stage Company in Norfolk and is one of the original founders of the Zoo-To-Do. He welcomes the Noblemen’s desire for a larger footprint in Norfolk. For Soble, the launch of Zoofest could not be a better introduction of the Noblemen to city decision makers, potential community partners, and philanthropists.

The Noblemen Founder, Al Midgett with Robert Soble (Photo credit: Kennesha Walker)

“The Zoo is the pride and joy of Norfolk,” Soble said. “This is the perfect venue to host an event. There have been major improvements over the years, including the building of the Pavillion, and I am thrilled that this event may be the first opportunity to visit for those who might not otherwise have known about this venue.”

Soble noted that some community leaders including Norfolk City Council member Angelia Williams had stopped by to welcome Zoofest.

Plus, Soble continued, “We can never do enough to help children in need. The fact that the Noblemen, as well as its sister organization, the Noblewomen, want to help here in Norfolk is a good thing.”

“I am impressed that with the money that they raise at events such as Zoofest, they are able to act quickly to meet a need; whether it’s paying a hospital bill or purchasing a wheelchair for a child. They meet, discuss, and decide [in quick order].”

Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim sees a win-win.

“I am very appreciative of the involvement of the Noblemen in Zoofest. The Noblemen can help promote the Zoofest and take this fundraising effort to an improved level which will help spread the good news of the Virginia Zoo and the good work of the Noblemen,” Mayor Fraim said in a written statement to Hampton Roads Social.

Zoo-To-To may have been reborn as Zoofest, and it may be somewhat different (it is less formal, and resembles a fun backyard barbecue than a gala); but that didn’t seem to matter to the veterans of Zoo-To-Do who had yearned for its return, or the newbies. It was a good time, for a good cause… at the Zoo! (At night!)

Click here to read about the work of the Noblemen

Click here to see more photos from Zoofest
Click here to see Zoofest video produced by Hampton Roads Social


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