Now in its second year, The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham’s “Santa Run, Walk, ‘N Roll” brings the community together during the season of giving to raise awareness and funds for the chapter. Capitalizing on the holiday spirit and everyone’s love of festive cheer, the event provides Santa suits and elf ears to make everyone a “helper” in spreading joy. The parade lasts for a half mile through downtown Harrisonburg right before the city’s holiday parade. We asked Heather Denman, Executive Director of the chapter, what makes the event so special and successful!
How did the Santa Run, Walk, ‘N Roll get started?
The Arc of the Piedmont located in Charlottesville VA has successfully held a Santa Fun Run for six years. The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham was interested in establishing an inclusive friend- and fund-raising event and The Arc of the Piedmont generously helped get us started. We renamed the event Santa Run, Walk, ‘N Roll. The Arc of Hanover (another VA chapter) is having their first Santa Run this year. Our goal is to have all chapters of The Arc throughout Virginia conduct the event on the same weekend each December.
How far out do you begin meeting and preparing for the event to ensure success? What does the process of bringing it to life look like?
The main promotional thrust for Santa Run should begin in September, but we start the planning process with the submission of an application to the City in February. We also make early arrangements with The Friendly City Food Co-op where we begin and end the Run, Walk, ‘N Roll. We used Eventbrite for registration the first year but have purchased fundraising software (Salsa) that better allows for teams and individuals to sign up and invite people to sponsor them. Prizes collected throughout the year are awarded in a number of categories, including most money raised by an individual, most raised by a team, and best decorated wheelchair, stroller, and pet. Television, radio, and print advertising campaigns are donated in exchange for event sponsorships and they begin in October with increasing frequency closer to the event. Board and community volunteers help secure sponsors, distribute posters, and promote it on social media. At the event, volunteers help with registration and provide and dispense hot chocolate and cider, holiday cookies and snacks at the registration/finish line. Participants receive a bag with sponsor swag and coupons for Santas to enjoy a free or reduced price item at downtown restaurants post event.
How do you get other community organizations and companies involved, either as sponsors or participants?
Expenses for the event are very low (Santa suits are about $9) so corporate sponsorships more than cover the costs of the event. While we prefer to line up sponsors well in advance, companies often have funds left over at year end and are happy to help. Each sponsorship comes with free registration at commensurate levels—a $500 sponsor gets 4 free registrations and a $5,000 sponsor gets 20. This encourages sponsors to form teams and become engaged beyond their donation. Local universities help promote the event on their campuses. We also utilize our DD provider networks, The Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, and social media.
How does the event serve as a vehicle for more people in the community to get involved in the chapter, either as volunteers, clients, or staff?
Publicity for the event including promotion and media coverage create much needed awareness of our mission. An information station is manned at the event with sign-ups for volunteering, newsletters and memberships.
How do you ensure the event is inclusive and welcomes everyone from the planning side as well as the participation side?
We ensure staff and consumer participation by allocating Community Engagement (CE) or Community Coaching time to Santa Run. A fellow provider has offered overtime to all their staff who provide support to their individuals to participate. We also provide transportation to and from the event and have college volunteers on hand to provide individual support for members of CE teams or others needing assistance. A self-advocate serves on the board of directors and has been involved in the planning of the event and we are in the process of establishing a self-advocacy committee that will have representation on a state-wide self-advocacy alliance.