The Sunburst Gala 2021: A Night to Celebrate and Shine

The Sunburst Gala 2021: A Night to Celebrate and Shine

On March 13th, “The Upside of Downs” hosted their annual “Sunburst Gala,” celebrating individuals with down syndrome and those who care for them. Typically the event is hosted in person, but due to the challenging circumstances of 2020, a digital event was held. The livestream was broadcast from USOD headquarters, hosted by Development Coordinator Maria Sivertson and Fox8 Morning Anchor Todd Meany, while Narrative Digital Media facilitated the stream. Even though it’s not the same as an in person event, teamwork allowed this event to surpass the fundraising goals set for this crucial event.

The Up Side of Downs

“The Up Side of Downs” is a non-profit organization which began more than 30 years ago as a parent led group that sought to provide support for children with downs syndrome and their families. Today, funded solely by private donations, USOD employs 12 full time staff and serves 1,000 individuals across 16 counties in Northeast Ohio.

Maria Sivertson, the Development Coordinator for USOD understands how important these crucial support systems are for families with a child with down syndrome. “I am passionate because I have a daughter with down syndrome.” For Maria it’s personal, “I’ve gotten to know families through USOD and we’re close. These events, [the Sunburst Gala and Buddy Walk] provide critical funds for our organization. This drives me to make the most of them and to have a lasting impact for my daughter, her friends and their families. 

Each year, USOD, hosts “The Sunburst Gala 2021: A Night to Celebrate and Shine.” This annual event celebrates individuals with down syndrome and those who care for them. This fundraising event is a main source of income for the organization and 100% of the proceeds directly benefit individuals with down syndrome–regardless of their age.

The Gala wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of local businesses who support their mission and fuel their outreach. Additionally, passionate families volunteer their time and resources to reach out with encouragement and support for families on this journey.

Despite the challenges of 2020, with many “in person” events being cancelled, the USOD determined to continue the Gala and organized a digital event. Meals were delivered to families by catering company Robert J. Events, and while they attended online, they were encouraged to connect with their friends through social media. A live streamed presentation from the USOD office was hosted by Todd Meany of Fox8 and Mrs. Sivertson. During this interactive event, the hosts educated audiences on Down Syndrome, auctioned off unique gifts and opportunities while spotlighting USOD developments from the previous year.

Todd Meany, a long time supporter of USOD commented, “ I just fell in love with this organization. They do such great things for people with down syndrome and their families too. We are supporting over 1,000 families in 16 counties around Northeast Ohio, and to be able to have that kind of impact is very special. I love being a part of that.” 

“I am passionate because I have a daughter with down syndrome…These events, [the Sunburst Gala and Buddy Walk] provide critical funds for the organization. I am driven to make an impact for my daughter, her friends and their families. 

An Interactive Live Stream Performance

Narrative Digital Media facilitated the stream, ensuring the gala went off without a hitch. The stream included 3 cameras, tied together with a mobile video switcher and color balanced for professional broadcasting. The cameras allowed the team to capture the talent from a variety of angles, with one displaying Mr. Meany referencing an interactive screen featuring a “real time” donation counter as funds came in from across the U.S. Audio levels were carefully balanced throughout and mixed with pre-recorded content that was created from Gala sponsors. The entire program was carefully scripted in advance ensuring all the information could be covered.

In order to transform the office space into a TV set, an array of lighting was assembled and diffused to spread soft light on the presenters. This ensures a color accurate and professional image.

“It was very special for me to be part of an organization that does good for good people. I am so very honored to host the Sunburst Gala this year and look forward to doing it more in the future.”

Using Interactive Media Effectively

Since the Sunburst Gala is typically a time to connect with others, share stories and enjoy a close supportive community, the organizers worked hard to find creative ways to engage the audience and foster this sense of community.

The live stream was monitored by USOD staff and Narrative Digital Media, who responded to comments from the virtual audience, while the hosts read many comments “on air,” during the dinner event. 

Participants of the live stream were encouraged to take pictures of themselves enjoying the catered meal and watching the presentation, then upload them to a secure USOD dropbox. These photos were then edited into a slideshow that was played later that night during the event. This way the audience could see a “live update” from all those who were celebrating the event together. 

For Maria, “going virtual” won’t stop the USOD from building a supportive community. “Especially during 2020, the pandemic year, we had to pivot everything to being virtual. We found that the community around us were really thankful for our efforts.” 

While the virtual event exceeded their fundraising goal, there are always more ways to help those in need through donations, volunteering and offering support. Despite challenges posed by the pandemic and a virtual event, The Up Side of Downs continues to build their community and support for families in need.