COLORADO SPRINGS. A famous quote claims that “attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure,” a theory that has been tested during the last seven weeks of rapid change. When schools shut down their campuses in mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, everyone was hopeful that the shutdown would be short lived. That included the events staff at St. Mary’s High School, who at that time were just weeks away from their annual gala.
Two weeks into the shutdown, it was evident that holding the gala as planned — with a Roaring Twenties theme and taking place at the Antlers Hotel — would not be possible. Events Director Raquel Krasovec said they were presented with three alternatives: postpone, cancel, or go virtual. After much discussion, the staff decided to go virtual and began gathering information and developing a plan that would work for the St. Mary’s community.
“After the initial panic, we decided to trust God, ourselves, and the St. Mary’s community and move forward with a virtual event,” Krasovec said. “Our biggest concern was not that different from the concern that runs through all events — will we be able to deliver to our community an experience that leaves them feeling like it was worth the time, money and effort they invested to be at our event? And could we create that experience virtually?”
The virtual gala was held on April 18, the date originally planned for the event. It consisted of several activities that are included in the live event, including the silent auction, the live auction, the “Gift from the Heart” appeal and the raffle drawing. While bids were taken on the live auction through the GiveSmart app, which has been used for the silent auction for the last several years, “Pistol” Pete Husak joined St. Mary’s president Rob Rysavy on a Facebook livestream to present the live auction items. The livestream also included videos of students, maintaining a student presence which the live galas have each year.
The community response after the event was overwhelmingly positive, with several people asking for a virtual event to be added to future live gala events. As Jeremy Stump, a St. Mary’s parent, said, “We took COVID- 19 lemons and made lemonade.” At the end of the evening, Stump shared a video of himself doing the dance move “the worm” since the community met its fundraising goal for the evening.
Krasovec said while the rhythm of gala day was different, since onsite details didn’t need constant attention, the excitement and nervous energy were the same. Before the event, champagne and a dessert from Marigolds were delivered to our previous Dessert Dash winners, the Wilcox, Stump, and Silver families. The Dessert Dash is a highlight of the gala each year, with freshman families providing desserts, and tables bidding for the opportunity to choose first.
“When we gathered up our small group in the Cove and off site at the start of the evening there was a sense of calmness knowing that, as Rob had said, ‘no matter what the outcome, we have already succeeded,’” Krasovec said. “With the exception of some minor technical difficulties, the evening went better than expected. Our high energy hosts and our student-centered videos captured the hearts of our generous St. Mary’s community.”
Overall, the gala raised approximately $130,000 for St. Mary’s tuition assistance program, which Krasovec said was not far off the net profit raised in the school’s best gala year. With more than a third of St. Mary’s students receiving tuition assistance, profit from the gala is important to the school community.
“Just as importantly, based on feedback from our community, we were able to connect with one another in a fun and meaningful way while working to meet the mission and needs of our school,” she said. “We will take the new experiences and lessons learned from this year’s gala and incorporate them in our future events.”
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.)