Anyone responsible for converting an in-person event to a virtual format—a skill in high demand these days—could take a lesson from the Longwood students in charge of this year’s Relay For Life fundraiser.
The event is one of the biggest each year for Longwood and the Farmville community. In its normal format, it spans 12 hours and draws hundreds of participants in an effort to raise money for the American Cancer Society and to recognize loved ones who have survived cancer—or fought the good fight and lost. In one of the main activities, participants walk around the indoor track at Longwood’s Fitness Center, earning donations for each mile.
I joined this organization because I want to create a world with more birthdays and where cancer is a thing of the past.Savannah Wright ’20 Tweet This
Covid-19 precautions made all that that impossible this year, so the 11 students on the Relay for Life committee put their heads together to come up with an alternative experience.
The goals remained the same as in the past, but this year everything had to move into the virtual realm, said event chair Savannah Wright ’20, a business/marketing major. It wasn’t easy—but the committee dug in and made it work.
“The hardest thing was keeping viewers engaged and being sure that we were tying everything to the theme: ‘Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back,’” she said.
The committee didn’t do anything slick or polished—just authentic, heartfelt and genuinely touching. That was enough. In a time of uncertainty, they raised nearly $69,000, marshaling the support of 613 participants, 1,800 donors and seven sponsors*.
Here’s how they went virtual:
- They created a livestream video each day of the three-day event that included about 45 minutes of “programming,” including survivor stories, memorials to lost loved ones, a trivia contest, a scavenger hunt, individual “Why I Relay” testimonials and TikTok team videos.
- One particularly moving segment on Day 2 was about Caitlyn Martens-Baginski ’21, a Longwood transfer student and therapeutic recreation major, whose beloved father died from multiple myeloma. That wasn’t Caitlyn’s first experience with cancer, viewers learned. Years earlier, when she was just 6 years old, doctors discovered she had a life-threatening brain tumor. Treatment was successful—even miraculous, Caitlyn says—and she’s now been cancer-free for 12 years.
- They kept the walk aspect of the event, encouraging participants to sign up donor pledges as usual, but the walking took place away from campus, wherever participants were riding out the stay-at-home order. Wright said this had the added benefit of incentivizing people to get outside and exercise.
- They created a video to recognize sponsors, which was new this year and a feature they may keep post-pandemic. “I think this would be great to do at future events,” she said.
Relay For Life is personal for Wright, who got involved because of her family’s history with cancer. “My grandpa passed away in 2009 from cancer, and my grandma passed away in 2015 from lung cancer. This is such an awful disease, and it makes me hurt for anyone who has to go through it. I joined this organization because I want to create a world with more birthdays and where cancer is a thing of the past.”
*Relay For Life sponsors this year were Navona Hart at RealLiving Cornerstone, one19, Brenco Solutions, Walk2Campus, Southside Electric Co-op, Benchmark Community Bank and Waldy’s Ice Cream.