The annual Graduates’ Luncheon, hosted by the Leader Council, is one of Mercy Home’s most touching and impactful events. And though the pandemic makes it unsafe for us to gather in person to celebrate our graduates, we knew that we had to find some way to acknowledge their many accomplishments.
“Mercy Home is in a similar boat to so many families who have kids who are graduating,” Rachel Twarog, the special director of special events, said.”[There are] a lot of kids who just aren’t able to participate in their graduation ceremony and have that closure of this experience and this milestone that they worked for years to achieve. To lose that celebration at the end is a huge loss.”
To minimize that loss, we debated and decided against postponing the event–“it’s really not one that you can postpone because we want to be able to celebrate graduation in a timely way,” Rachel pointed out–and ultimately decided to make it our first-ever virtual event.
“The Graduates’ Luncheon really lends itself well to become a virtual event because a lot of it is program-based,” Rachel explained. “It’s very similar to a commencement because there’s a lot of speakers … and we felt that’s something that we can easily capture in a digital format.”
In addition to translating well to a digital experience, there is another benefit to moving the event online–it allows us to reach a much wider audience and invite a national audience to join us in cheering on our graduates. About 35,000 donors have been invited to virtually attend, versus the usual number of 800 attendees!
This means that a huge number of people will get to experience, among the many of great parts of the event, hearing the graduate speaker tell his story. Rachel said that while friends of the Home often hear our kids’ stories told by adults, this a unique opportunity for them to hear the story from on our kids directly.
“I think that people all over the United States who care about Mercy Home, they care about the our kids, I think they’ll be in for a treat, just to be able to listen to that speech and hear directly from our kids,” Rachel said. “And then also just to join in this fun celebration for all of our graduates, I think is a special opportunity. We’re excited that more people get to do it than ever before.”
This event also marks a special milestone for Rachel–it is her first event as the director of special events in addition to being the first virtual event she’s ever planned.
“It’s kind of like knowing our events from working on them for years, but then tossing out the playbook and learning to look at them in a totally new way,” she said. “Which is, as I keep telling myself, a super fun and exciting opportunity, but it also comes with its challenges.”
There are many exciting elements planned for this year’s event, including opportunities to hear from our kids and for attendees to send messages to their friends also attending or to our graduates.
But what is most important is that our graduates feel special despite the difficult circumstances.
“Mercy Home is like a family and we want to make [our graduates] feel special,” Rachel said. “We want them to know that we honor the accomplishments that they have done [and] we want to try and recreate [the graduation experience] to the best of our ability.”
To make sure that all our kids still feel connected to Mercy Home and to this wonderful event, they, along with our coworkers, will also be invited to watch the event and see how many people have come together to celebrate them.
Of course, there’s nothing quite like celebrating together in person, and Rachel noted that Mercy Home will also throw our graduates a party when they are all back at the Home.
“Even if it’s just a pizza party or something, we’ll definitely give them a little something to look forward to once we’re all back to normal,” she said.