With quarantine rules across the country still in place during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, large-scale gatherings have been made almost impossible. This created enormous challenges for local chapters of The ALS Association, who had Walk to Defeat ALS® events planned to allow our ALS community to come together at the local level to honor a loved one with the disease, to remember those who have passed, and to raise awareness and critical fundraising support for the fight against ALS.
But just as ALS did not stop for COVID-19, the Walk to Defeat ALS® did not stop. The simple fact is, we can’t wait for COVID-19 to end before we walk. Instead, chapters across the country have been coming up with innovative ways to move this signature event into virtual spaces, creating new opportunities for our communities to come together in unity to keep building a world without ALS.
The ALS Association Greater Chicago Chapter’s event was already scheduled to take place on June 6 and planning was well underway when the pandemic took hold in early March. The chapter staff realized the likelihood of a traditional large community event was not going to be a safe possibility. After speaking with committee members and various families, it became clear they needed to make a change.
“We knew we didn’t want to cancel, this event means so much to our ALS community and provides our chapter with the funds we need to be able to provide care and support for our families,” said Kendra Albers, Director of Development for the chapter. “We had just three days to completely change our event and roll it out to our teams and volunteers to get them ready.”
To help prepare their participants and provide them with the best possible walk day experience, they had to get creative. After a few days of brainstorming, the staff turned their annual in-person community celebration into a fun, friendly experience online using social media, encouraging their families and teams to create their own personal events by walking or riding right in their own neighborhoods to protect everyone’s health and safety.
To help get everyone excited, volunteers and staff took to social media, sharing stories and videos, and alerting their networks that the Walk to Defeat ALS® was “Coming to a Neighborhood Near You.” They sent out packets and boxes to their teams with all of the supplies they would need to create their own great walk day experience. Door and yard signs, balloons and tablecloths, and of course plenty of sidewalk chalk encouraging all to “chalk your walk.”
On event day, after participating in an online opening ceremony on Facebook Live, families took to the streets sharing their personal walk day experiences in their neighborhoods and parks donned with signs, balloons, and lots of sidewalk drawings and artwork.
Using their social media theme “Walk Your Way,” The ALS Association St. Louis Regional Chapter held a similar virtual walk event on June 27. “It’s almost like this new event helped us to spread even more awareness of ALS,” said Elizabeth Roe, Development Coordinator. “Instead of one community celebration in Forest Park, we had numerous small community events in neighborhoods all over St. Louis, engaging even more people that might not have known anything about ALS.”
These events will continue through the fall around the country, enabling our ALS communities to continue to come together, spread awareness of the disease and celebrate their loved ones, both past and present. “Staying creative is important,” says Lauren Strauser, Administrative Coordinator at The ALS Association Tennessee Chapter. “Our event is coming up in October and we’re working together every day with our teams, sponsors, and our volunteers to come up with new ideas about how to make this virtual experience special for all of our families.”
For more information about the Walk to Defeat ALS® and how you can get involved, visit WalktoDefeatALS.org.