WHY DID WE DECIDE TO HOLD A GORILLA GALA?
Well, we were having an awesome time making pie-face videos and raising money for the mountain gorillas, but we really wanted to create an interactive experience. We were especially interested in getting other kids to learn and care about gorillas and their plight.
HOW DOES ONE GO ABOUT PLANNING A FUNDRAISING EVENT LIKE THIS?
Mom (Sarah) has plenty of experience planning school events from her time on the PTA board. But when you're planning a PTA event, you already have a budget, probably a venue, hopefully a team of other volunteers and a known audience. This was a bit different, but we were definitely up for the challenge.
Step one was to figure out where to hold the Gala. Budget was our largest hurdle here because our family was financing the bulk of the event and trying not to go broke doing it. Because we are not a nonprofit ourselves, businesses weren't really interested in donating their spaces because they couldn't write it off. Further, because we were going to be collecting donations on site, that eliminated the possibility of holding the Gala at a County Park due to their bylaws. Thankfully, around the time we started to panic that we might have to hold the Gala in our small living room, our amazing friends offered to host the Gala at their beautiful horse farm. Step one: DONE!
At the suggestion of a good friend, we started reaching out to just about any company and organization that had any kind of connection to gorillas and/or conservation. We simply told them Addy's story and then couldn't believe how many companies got on board with supporting the event. Gorilla Glue, Go Ape Treetop Adventure, Gorilla Socks, Thanksgiving Coffee, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Maine Beer Company, Ink to the People, and The Backyard Naturalist all offered fantastic prizes for our raffle. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund also generously supplied us with all sorts of cool Fossey swag to share with our guests including pens, pencils, car decals, photos and newsletters.
So we had the venue; we had our awesome supporters. But we still worried if anyone was going to actually come since it was summer vacation and if they did, what would we actually do to entertain them?? We created an Eventbrite page that linked to our Facebook event page that allowed people to RSVP. It started to look like people were going to attend! Hallelujah! Addy and #1 big sister Emma spent lots of time coloring poster board and deciding what fun gorilla themed crafts
and games we could do. Pinterest was our friend. In the days leading up to the Gala, we made what felt like a million gorilla gummies that we could sell at our concession station. Our last worry was that the weather would hold out...
FINALLY, GORILLA GALA DAY WAS HERE! HOW DID IT GO?
The weather was iffy enough that we decided to move the Gala into the indoor riding ring on the farm. We had a fantastic group of student and adult volunteers that helped us get set up in plenty of time. Our awesome friend Danny purchased a gorilla suit and was quite the hit as our co-host. Our guests could come in, check out the photo booth and wonder around these fun stations:
Virtually in Virunga: Addy worked so hard to create an amazing tri-fold board with everything you
ever wanted to learn about gorillas and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund! Plus, this station had two VR devises that allowed our guests to immerse themselves in the world of gorillas using an vEcoLab Virtual Reality experience developed with the help of Ian Redmond of the Gorilla Organization.
(Each station was named for something gorilla-related and the sign offered this description: VIRUNGA National Park is one of the most biologically diverse protected areas on the planet. Half of all the biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa can be found in Virunga. Although mountain gorillas are extremely rare and listed as one of the most critically endangered species, successful conservation work has helped to secure the remaining populations. The 2018 mountain gorilla census has indicated that the conservation efforts of Virunga have been very successful.)
Romping in Rwanda: At this fun game station, our guests could put on gorilla gloves and test their fine motor skills by completing a series of challenges. Players could also win a prize by answering gorilla trivia and cracking the codes to a series of lock boxes. If they got stuck on a trivia question, they could use Addy's trifold board as a helper. Younger guests enjoyed the "find the gorilla" scavenger hunt game.
(Each station was named for something gorilla-related and the sign offered this description: RWANDA's economy suffered heavily in wake of the 1994 genocide, but has since strengthened. The economy is based mostly on subsistence agriculture. Coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export. Tourism is a fast-growing sector and is now the country's leading foreign exchange earner. Rwanda is one of only two countries in which mountain gorillas can be visited safely, and visitors pay high prices for gorilla trekking permits.)
Crafting in the Congo: We had three adorable keepsakes for our guests to create at this crafting station: a gorilla silhouette, a gorilla paper plate face mask and a "If I met a Gorilla" actual-sized hand print!
(Each station was named for something gorilla-related and the sign offered this description: The rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the CONGO contain great biodiversity, including many rare and endemic species, such as the common chimpanzee and the bonobo, the African forest elephant, the mountain gorilla, the okapi and the white rhino. The civil war and resulting poor economic conditions have endangered much of this biodiversity. Many park wardens were either killed or could not afford to continue their work. It is NOT safe to visit mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and many national parks have closed in this country due the high level of danger.)
Karisoke Kickback and Koko's Concessions: All of the amazing items up for raffle were displayed at Karisoke Kickback and we had to give Koko a shout out since she had just passed away earlier that week. (We are all praying for Koko)
(Each station was named for something gorilla-related and the sign offered this description: The KARISOKE Research Center in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park was founded by Dian Fossey in 1967, to study endangered mountain gorillas. Fossey located the camp in Rwanda's Virunga volcanic mountain range, between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke, and named it by combining the names of the two mountains.The Karisoke Research Center is currently the world’s best hope for the survival of endangered mountain gorillas and their ecologically critical habitat. Thanks to its active conservation program, the mountain gorillas of the Virungas are the only great ape species to have increased in number in recent decades.)
Fossey Face paint: Our guests could visit the talented volunteer artists to get a unique design!
Rescue the Gorilla: Kids loved this Capture-the-flag-type game
Gorilla Relay Race: The whole crowd enjoyed this event inspired by Tom Harrison, aka Mr. Gorilla. In 2017, Mr. Gorilla ran the London Marathon gorilla-style. Meaning, he completed all 26 miles on his hands and feet, traveling as a gorilla would! It took him six days and he raised over $30K for gorilla conservation. Mr. Gorilla sent Addy an inspirational video to get her and her guests excited for the race, which we showed prior to getting started. The video was so cute and a complete surprise for Addy.
The winning team got to "pie" the losing team. It was hilarious! Some kids got pied even though they won! They just wanted the chance to rub whipped cream all over their faces!
We closed out the Gorilla Gala with many many thank yous and by announcing the winners of the raffle. In all, we raised $900 on site. That money, combined with the most recent t-shirt sales gave us $1,500 to split between DFGF and the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund.
WILL THIS BECOME AN ANNUAL FUNDRAISER?We're not sure! We think if we wanted to do it again, it would be a lot easier since we've already done it once. We have a lot of materials and we've made a lot of contacts that might be interested in partnering again. But perhaps it would be fun to come up with a whole new idea. Addy's creative mind never stops turning! Stay tuned!