JDRF pivots online for virtual Cincinnatians of Year Gala

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, JDRF has had to significantly change its approach to fundraising events. This includes virtualizing the annual JDRF Cincinnatians of the Year Gala, which normally attracts 900 guests. The online event was held Saturday, May 9, and was considered a “huge success” by organizers.

JDRF virtual gala emcee Bob Herzog with JDRF Southwest Ohio Executive Director Melissa Newman at the KPG Creative studios

“We’re thrilled to have raised $750,000 to fund research to find a cure for type 1 diabetes,” said JDRF Southwest Ohio Executive Director Melissa Newman. “This is of course lower than the original goal we set last budget cycle, before the world even knew of COVID-19, but in these challenging and unprecedented times is substantially more than we thought we would achieve.”

Typically, the event is one of the largest black-tie nonprofit fundraising galas in the city, raising over $1M annually for JDRF. 

“We’re incredibly fortunate to have a great partner in KPG Creative,” said Newman,  “and their willingness to help – at no cost to JDRF – made this virtual gala possible. Without them, we would likely have had to cancel the event outright, which would have been devastating to our fundraising efforts.”

JDRF virtual gala
Melissa Newman with JDRF staff and KPG technical crew

The JDRF virtual gala featured four hours of live programming, including a cocktail demonstration from celebrity mixologist Molly Wellmann, an opening performance from last season’s “American Idol” top-eight finalist Drake McCain, and cooking demos from T1D blogger Moira McCarthy Stanford and Duke Energy Convention Center executive chef Purvil Cheney. The band Naked Karate Girls ended the night with a live benefit streaming concert, and DJ E-Trayn hosted an online after party. The “Don’t Stop Believin'” theme was reflected throughout the program with fun nods to the 1980’s. Local 12’s Bob Herzog served as virtual emcee.

Bob Herzog
Emcee Bob Herzog

Plans this year originally included recognition of Liza and Albert Smitherman as Cincinnatians of the Year, and Susan Mustian as the Cynthia Marver Marmer Volunteer of the Year. JDRF will now honor these recipients at their 2021 event, with hopes that the event will return to an in-person soiree at the Duke Energy Convention Center.

Proceeds from the event will fund research to find a cure for type 1 diabetes, or T1D, which is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas and destroys the cells that produce insulin. It can impact anyone at any age and at any time, and has no association with diet or lifestyle choices.

Up next: JDRF One Walk – May 30

Typically held at Kings Island and attracting 8,000 participants, JDRF’s One Walk will have to be held online this year. 

The event kicks off at 9 a.m. with an opening ceremony, featuring Virtual Walk emcee Kyle Inskeep from Local 12. Livvy Stubenrauch, who voices young Anna in “Frozen,” will sing the national anthem. 

Other activities throughout the day include fundraising challenges and contests, a unified neighborhood walk, a type 1 diabetes research update, and a virtual Zumba session. The highlight of the day will be the one in-person element of the Virtual Walk day experience, which is a Drive to Cure event held from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. at the Starlite Drive-in Theatre in Amelia. This component will allow guests to participate in many of the same traditional walk day experiences, but from the comfort and safety of their own vehicles.

Learn more about how to participate or support here.

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