By Gary Swick, President
When COVID-19 came to town in March, countless routines got turned upside down. Friends of the Fox River (FOFR) considers Fox River protection an essential business, so we, like so many others, have to adapt our operations to continue to provide our services. Throughout our journey, we are keeping fun front and center.
As schools went virtual, so did we. A small team of educators produced nearly daily lessons for shelter-in-place families. This production required doing something completely different to replace our normally booked-to-capacity trips with students to their local streams. Each episode was produced by the educator assigned to that particular day, often without any assistance. The Watershed Academy lessons were posted on Facebook (FB). We could see our FB “reach,” but were uncertain of our actual impact. We were hoping for families to try the activities and then post their experience on FB. We received many comments and likes. Although they didn’t compare to 5,000 students in their streams, they were fun to produce.
Alternative Spring Cleanup (ASC)
The ASC was also a Facebook-centered initiative. When we normally would have been out organizing hundreds of folks throughout the watershed for shoreline trash removal, COVID-19 closed that door. The ASC FB event encouraged small family groups to get out and collect small amounts of trash when and where it was convenient and safe for them. The theory was that many small efforts could actually result in the same quantity of trash removed as the fewer but larger regular events. Participants were encouraged to post their pictures and results on FB. Many folks proudly did just that, which inspired others. An oak tree was offered as a thank-you gift. From the FB posts it was consistently clear that this activity was fun for those involved.
COVID-19 has isolated us from the 1,000+ members of the watershed that we normally would engage through spring and summer events. But the tensions of sheltering in place has driven record numbers onto the Fox River Bike Trail. To stay connected to the public, we made some new friends (homeowners and businesses) along the trail. Over 50 signs reading “You Hike It, You Bike It, We Protect It – Join Us, Friends of the Fox River” were placed on private property by the owners. Thank you to our new friends for their support. Many folks have commented on how they liked the reminder to appreciate the riverside trail and of our efforts to Keep On Fixin’ the Fox.
As COVID-19 forced organizations to cancel or postpone event plans, we sadly had to do just that for our largest annual fundraiser, No Clean Water No Good Beer (NCWNGB). The ASC cleanup event was scheduled to end on last year’s fundraiser event date in conjunction with our canoe raffle winning ticket selection. As the NCWNGB August 10th date neared, the reality of our not being able to conduct the event became clear. The usually popular and very fun-for-all event needed a new look. A new committee was formed to address this challenge. We had a fundraising goal and a handful of volunteers with a lot of enthusiasm but we were limited in professional marketing skills. The primary objective was to keep it a FUNdraiser.
Fox River Fridays (FRF) Were Born
Because the NCWNGB was a membership and beer sampling event, we wanted to relate to that theme. Facebook again was our medium. We developed a series of 5 informational videos to educate our members (and the public), which were unveiled in a happy hour-style setting at 5:55 p.m. on Fridays in July and the first week of August. Each had a quirky lead-in with a few toasts. In addition, the series offered a membership deal that included a raffle ticket for the canoe drawing. The series and offer worked as a membership drive, drove raffle sales, and was mostly fun to produce. We hope it was fun to watch.
Only One Winner but Fun for All
The canoe raffle goal was to sell 1,000 $10 tickets. COVID-19 again disrupted our personal ticket sales plans which drove the development of “Fox River Fridays” (as a way to promote sales). Since that goal of 1,000 tickets sold seemed pretty elusive, we created a plan to solicit additional donations. The proceeds of the canoe raffle were all designated to fund our education programs. The canoe raffle ticket drawing became a FB Live event, “CAN-U (canoe) Help Us Support Watershed Education?”
On the afternoon of August 10th, a powerful storm passed through the Fox River Valley. But by showtime the skies cleared and a safe and small, group assembled at Billy Brick’s Wood Fired Pizza patio on the river’s edge in Elgin. With help from D. Hudson Productions, we offered some reasons (through personal testimonials) why viewers should donate to help us expand our educational services throughout the entire year and watershed.
An anonymous FOFR Board member offered $500 to kick off fundraising. Jackson Rose Candles offered an artisan crafted, small batch soy candle ($24 value) to the first 20 people that pledged $50 or more, and our amazing board member Kyla Jacobsen and husband Tom offered to match the next $5,000 in donations.
There was only one winner of the canoe, Bob Sutton, recent retiree and grandfather, but the students who will receive our educational services and their care for the Fox River were also winners from the night’s fun event.
Keeping It Fun
Environmental protection is often a serious battle. And messages about its plight commonly describe depressing conditions. FOFR seeks to keep the fun factor in our efforts. Students and teachers involved in our education programs will often boast about how much fun they are. Teachers often describe them as the school-year highlight. Cleanups are hard work, but volunteers usually have big smiles from their efforts. Our COVID-19-driven adaptations in operations led us into video productions and FB connections which caused some anxiety as we learn as we go. Look for more fun opportunities as we navigate the turbulent waters ahead.