[INTERVIEW] Welcome To The Echelon House: The Charity Phans Built!

Photo: Echelon house build in Toronto- Lily is on the far left (Courtesy of Lily at the Echelon House)

Forgets stans, y’all. When it comes to The Echelon – the super passionate fan army behind mega-band 30 Seconds To Mars – we’re talking about phans aka philanthropists + fans.

From planting trees in Haiti for frontman Jared Leto’s big 4-0 to organizing a Charity: Water donation drive in honor of the cosmic crew’s Guinness World Record-breaking 300th show, the do-goodery of their devoted followers is an international phenomenon that’s truly making the world a better place.

Over here at Act, we are hella impressed by the platoon of selfless phans who march to the give-back tune of pop rock’s hardest working boys, so we decided to get the deets on how it all got started from one of their most faithful soul-diers, Lily Sebert, the founder of The Echelon House, one of the first 30STM fan-based charity endeavors. Check out her inspiring interview below — and join The Echelon by taking Action after the jump!

How did you get the idea to start Echelon House?

In 2008, between the release of A Beautiful Lie and This Is War, 30 Seconds to Mars partnered with Habitat for Humanity in their hometown of Los Angeles, auctioning off a spot to be able to volunteer and build a house with them, with all money going to Habitat.

Interestingly enough, the idea originally started out as a message board thread  (before the emergence of twitter, the majority of fans hung out and got to know each other on the band’s official message board), and the thread was simply designed to encourage people to volunteer with Habitat in their local areas, since we weren’t able to help out in LA.

That same day, one of the girls in the UK found the Habitat Hopebuilders site where you could ‘build’ houses as a group online, and thought maybe we could do it as a project. Since I’d started the original thread, I signed us up, thinking that maybe we could work our way towards finishing a house if all of us worked together.  And thus “The House That The Echelon Built” was born.

Amazingly, within a week, we had completed our first house and were working on our second.  The band even found out about the project on their own (ninja skills, perhaps?) and posted about it on their blog and their website.

Almost four years later, it’s incredible to see how far we’ve come. What started off as a fairly small project has turned into a large, global endeavour, encompassing volunteering, creative fundraising projects, merchandise, donations, and much much more. I can’t wait to roll out our plans for 2012, to continue to expand what we’re doing, and build more houses for those who need it most.

Tell us about your success so far — how many homes have you built with donations from The Echelon?

We are currently working on our 28th house, which is almost complete! To date, we have raised over $50,000 USD to help those less fortunate. The folks at Habitat have been nothing short of incredible, and have supported us every step of the way – from technical issues, to logo usage, to including us in newsletters and year end reports, and even helping us fund raise at our Habitat-themed 30STM concert in Toronto. I’m so proud of all that we’ve accomplished. To think that 28 families have roofs over their heads because of our work is humbling, to say the least.

We wrote about The Echelon Donates project to build trees in Haiti for Jared’s 40th birthday — and Echelon House also had a special Haiti project for the frontman’s big 4-0. What’s going on with that? Can fans still get involved?

Absolutely! This year for Jared’s birthday project, we decided to focus specifically on funding for Haiti, as we know it’s a place that holds a lot of importance to him. The donation amount is up to each individual, and can be made directly at www.bit.ly/houseforhaiti.

We decided to do a project that combined photography as well as personalized notes. To participate, all you need to do is snap a photo of yourself holding a sign for Jared’s birthday (we have some sample ones on our website, such as ““Happy Birthday Jared! I donated to help those in need” or something similar). Fans then have the opportunity to write a letter to Jared, detailing why they chose to donate to The Echelon House for his birthday. These submissions will be compiled into a book for purchase by fans, and also for Jared himself as our birthday gift for his 40th. Depending on number of submissions, we will also look into making a poster from the photos.

Similar to the SOMNIATORES || The Dreamers holiday project, this deadline has been extended to Feb 17th, 2012. Even better, one donation gets you into both projects!

For full details on both projects, you can visit www.bit.ly/echelonprojects.

Has the band been supportive of The Echelon House? We heard Jared’s even donated his own money to the cause?

I wish I could accurately explain in words how blown away I continue to be by the band’s support. From (almost literally) day one, they have been behind us 100%, and what’s important to understand about this support is that it came unsolicited.

We have been featured on their website a number of times. They have mentioned our project in the media. We have been included when they compile their lists of charities during natural disasters. They have posted some of our projects to help spread the word. We have been named “website of the week” in their Transmission. They have generously signed items to be auctioned off in fundraising efforts. We’re now featured on their facebook page as a page they “Like.” And on, and on, and on.

Jared even went so far as to choose our project to donate funds (around $1700 USD) during the disaster in Haiti, including explaining our project on CNN on the Larry King telethon (1:04 mark) and encouraging people to get involved via his social media sites.

I don’t mention these things to boast about our accomplishments. Far from it. Instead, what I want to get across is simply the incredible people that are involved in the 30 Seconds to Mars camp. They have chosen of their own volition to take the time to support a project that is not an “Official” project of their own creation, but one I hope that they are proud that they inspired. It’s not something that I take for granted.

I will be forever grateful in the tremendous amount of trust they have shown in this project, and I hope that I continue to do it justice for many years to come.

Why does 30STM inspire you to give back?

One of the things that I value most about this band is their dedication to creating a community. While many bands speak highly of their fans, it’s impossible to deny the connection that 30 Seconds to Mars has with theirs. Whether it’s inviting fans to be part of the new record, to creating a fan yearbook, to having people’s faces on the CD cover, to inviting fans to be part of their video shoots…these guys do it all, and they believe in what they’re doing. They clearly don’t do it because they feel they have to, they do it because they want to. They encourage the fans to come together, to support each other, and to learn from one another.

These same principles are found throughout their non profit and charity work. They promote a can-do attitude, inspiring their fans by doing good themselves, and by walking the talk. How often do you see a platinum-selling band promote a fan-led charity initiative without being asked, simply to be supportive? They’re genuine and dedicated, and I admire that.

What do you think makes The Echelon so special?

In addition to the connectivity between the band and their fans, I think the main power behind the Echelon is our ability to come together. I’ve met friends all over the world from being involved with this band, and I can tell you from running this project that the dedication and commitment run deep, both to the band and to each other. The creative spirit and passion that The Echelon brings definitely makes it really exciting to lead this project.

At the end of the day, it’s about making a difference. Our philosophy is that it doesn’t matter how much money you give, or even if you give anything at all. You can be a supporter in many ways, and with all of us working together, we can accomplish a lot.

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Help The Echelon House win the Shorty Award for Best Charity!

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Build An Echelon House!

Build An Echelon House!

Get involved with their House for Haiti or Somniatores || The Dreamers HOLIDAY projects!