It didn’t take long for HomeFront officials to realize that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to throw a wrench into its signature Rock and Roll for Hope 5K, 10K and 1 Mile Run/Walk fundraiser, set for June 7.
Social distancing is in and crowds are out, which threatened to scuttle HomeFront’s 12th annual fundraiser for its Joy, Hopes and Dreams children’s enrichment program. The Lawrence Township nonprofit group helps the homeless and the working poor in Central New Jersey.
As HomeFront officials mulled over whether to cancel, reschedule or go “virtual,” it occurred to the organizers that people were stepping outside to exercise – by themselves or with family. Dogs still had to be walked, so owners were walking them.
That’s when HomeFront officials decided that Rock and Roll for Hope could still be held – except it would be done virtually, said Suki Wasserman, HomeFront’s community engagement coordinator and the event organizer.
“Everyone is looking for ways to help and they are spending more time outside walking or jogging or walking the dog, (so) why not combine them into a virtual run/walk event that they can do at home,” Wasserman said.
That is the genesis of HomeFront’s June 7 Virtual Run/Walk/Dog Walk for Hope fundraiser, she said.
“People can virtually complete a 5K, 10K or 1 Mile Walk/Run or even a dog walk,” Wasserman said.
More than 50 teams – corporate and social – have signed on for the virtual race/walk to raise money for the Joy, Hopes and Dreams program, which operates year-round.
The teams include The Lawrenceville School, the Littlebrook School in Princeton, the Maurice Hawk Elementary School in West Windsor, the Lynch Crew, the Compost Guys, Princeton University Press and Johnson & Johnson.
Participants can sign up for $20 for the dog walk and 1 Mile walk/run, or sign up for $30 for the 5K and 10K races, Wasserman said. Some participants have asked friends or family to sponsor them or their dog in the run, walk or dog walk events.
The largest virtual team will win a free music concert – post-COVID-19 – by the local band The Hive at the winner’s office or at the home of one of the teammates.
First prize for the largest fundraiser is a free overnight stay and breakfast at the Nassau Inn in Princeton.
The second-place winner will be treated to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory at the Quaker Bridge Mall with Connie Mercer, HomeFront’s founder and chief executive officer.
The third-place winner gets a free dinner at the Alchemist and Barrister restaurant in Princeton.
To make the Virtual Run/Walk/Dog Walk for Hope fundraiser a communal event, everyone will head out from their own front door. They can choose to go onto HomeFront’s Facebook page for a live-stream of the event at 9 a.m. so they can see who is taking part in it.
Each participant will receive a “runner’s bib” to wear so they can show passersby that they are supporting HomeFront. They can also download a playlist of music by local bands. They can take pictures and videos of themselves when they finish, and post them online.
HomeFront will make a compilation video of all participants who choose to upload a clip of themselves singing “We are the Champions” by Queen when they finish their run or walk. It will be shared with participants and the children who are enrolled in the Joy, Hopes and Dreams program.
The Joy, Hopes and Dreams enrichment program offers educational and recreational activities on the weekends, such as trips to museums, the zoo, ballgames and the beach, for HomeFront clients’ children.
During the week, tutors help the children with their homework. There is a reading specialist for children who need extra help. The children also attend art classes during the week, and occasionally go to see a play.
“Although we had to go virtual this year, the support that event provides is real for the most vulnerable children in our community. It is actually life-changing,” said Connie Mercer, the founder and chief executive officer of HomeFront.