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The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our daily lives upside-down. Long-planned events are suddenly being cancelled or shifted to an online arena. Junior League of New Orleans (JLNO) members have not let these unexpected changes dampen their spirits or lessen their commitment to serving the community. Such tenacity was evident this past April as the League community—including members, their friends and family—adapted to a virtual version of the League’s annual Run, Walk, Give event.
The League is an official charity partner of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Crescent City Classic, a 10k road race that began in 1979 and has become an Easter Weekend tradition. Each year, the Crescent City Fitness Foundation selects local charities to partner with and support. Ways and Means Director Shannon Brice explains JLNO’s involvement: “League participants train and raise funds on behalf of the League to support [their] projects and initiatives, such as the Diaper Bank and period supplies.”
This is the second year JLNO has been a Run, Walk, Give partner. Previously, the League hosted the Freret 5k, a race organized in-house, supporting the Freret neighborhood. “Transitioning to a partnership with [Crescent City Classic] was a natural progression to bring heightened awareness to the League’s mission and promote greater community involvement,” says Shannon.
In the weeks and months leading up to this year’s race, the Run, Walk, Give Committee hosted a Health Fair at Ochsner Baptist to raise interest and awareness. The committee also held regular training sessions for all fitness levels at Audubon Park, including a personalized race day schedule prepared by a health coach at Novak Sports Systems. This added structure and camaraderie helped to motivate the 33 League members who signed up to fundraise this year.
In addition to this training regimen, the committee organized a Yoga Night fundraiser event for sustainers. Sadly, the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis, but 20 sustainers had already registered, according to Paige Morrison, JLNO's Development Coordinator. With such an enthusiastic early response, it is promising that the event would be successful should it return.
The enforcement of stay at home orders and social distancing mandates required the race to take the unprecedented step of transitioning to a virtual event. “I think that going virtual did take some of the steam out of the engine, because the push to fundraise lost a little oomph,” says Paige. It’s understandable that fundraising efforts took a backseat to the new reality members faced. “But it did not take away from the fun of being part of a group of healthy-minded individuals who want to get outside and exercise,” she adds. Despite some lost momentum, members raised over $16,000 this year.
The unexpected challenge of connecting without meeting in person was met head-on. “At first it was thought that the virtual race would lower morale; however, it actually did the opposite,” says Shannon. The Run, Walk, Give committee quickly adapted by hosting virtual chats and making training available for participants to stream from the safety of their homes. “[They] were looking to find new, inventive ways to be active all while practicing social distancing. This virtual race provided that outlet.”
Immediate concerns about staying safe and healthy could detract from efforts to build resources for future projects and initiatives. Nevertheless, the League did not succumb to these temptations. The Run, Walk, Give event demonstrates how JLNO members are exercising their creativity, as well as their bodies, to maintain the connections and raise the funds that will help our community emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.