I confess that I was not expecting last Friday’s happy hour to take me to Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, but that’s where the instructions I’d received earlier that day pointed me. From the start I knew this was going to be an unorthodox happy hour all around.


So, instead of turning up at the normal neighborhood watering hole, around 5:30 p.m. I found myself walking into a building that had long ago been a bank branch, was later used as a church and was now the activities center for the Youth Empowerment Project. This local nonprofit runs a number of programs, including one that helps young people who have run afoul of the law re-enter society on the right foot. It’s not normally in the happy hour business, but here was a crowd of young professionals filling up its facility, sipping cocktails and beer and socializing after work. And it was all free.


It was in fact the first installment of a series called Pop Up Happy Hours that will take place with different nonprofits all across the city this summer. The series is organized by the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF), which helps fund and support community groups around the region. 


It’s a pretty straightforward appeal by the GNOF and the participating organizations to increase community participation, recruit younger people into the circles of philanthropy and showcase some of the groups and their work around the city. The nonprofit world across New Orleans is huge and varied, and the Pop Up Happy Hour series constitutes an easy-going tour of it. 


People who attend get to meet like-minded people, see what’s new and what’s working in the nonprofit sector and network and socialize with each other. Moreover, they also get a free happy hour in an unconventional setting – the offices, the business incubators and the sometimes offbeat spaces these groups call home.


Last Friday’s edition with the Youth Empowerment Project was the kick off, and the late afternoon gathering had a laidback feel. Representatives of the Youth Empowerment Project gave a very quick introduction to their organization and its work, though the event’s focus was more on networking and socializing than speeches.


Republic Beverages, one of the region’s big local liquor distributors, served a pair of cocktails made with Firefly Vodka and set up a big cooler of NOLA Brewery beers. The drinks, and everything else about the happy hour, is free for participants.


The series continues each Friday this summer through Aug. 30 (there isn’t one on July 5, however, due to the holiday).


The site for the next event is revealed only on the day of, keeping a little more surprise for the pop-up format, and the organizations partnering with GNOF for future editions run the gamut from arts and culture, education and youth development to criminal justice reform and civic engagement.


Sign up through the Greater New Orleans Foundation web site, and you’ll get an email each Friday with the location and other details for that evening’s event.