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Heart of Danville telethon kept viewers safe while raising funds

The Heart of Danville’s online telethon fund-raiser ended up being a “pleasant surprise” to its organizers, in more ways than one.

Board Chair Ann Yager McCrosky said the online telethon, which had never been tried here before, raised more than $6,000 for the organization. And afterward, the group had “an amazing brainstorming” session on how it could continue supporting the downtown merchants during a pandemic.

“I was astounded that it worked,” McCrosky said. “And the ideas that came from it, and the comments were so much better than I had imagined.”

The Heart of Danville was established in 1986 as a National Main Street program, and works to promote the economic vitality and viability of the downtown area and protect its historic character, according to its website.

Recently, the Heart not only took an economic hit from government budget cuts, but also a hit to all of its programs that drew friends and families to the downtown area.

“Because of the pandemic, we’re figuring out new ways” to raise money and keep the public engaged with the downtown, McCrosky explained.

The telethon was one way that people could safely enjoy local entertainment via social media in their own homes, and learn about the Heart’s mission, she said.

“We can’t do any of the other traditional stuff,” so the group decided on the telethon. “Some of the young people on the board didn’t even know what a telethon was,” McCrosky said laughing.

After the Aug. 9 event, which ran from 1 to 9 p.m., there were more than 10,000 views, and donations totaled more than $6,000 she said.

The money will be used to help support community programs such as the Lawn Chair Theater normally held during the summer at Constitution Square, and a variety of concerts and festivals, once the pandemic is under control and restrictions on public gatherings are lifted.

The “ice skating rink,” which was at Weisiger Park for two holiday seasons, was another event sponsored by the Heart of Danville, McCrosky said. However, many people thought it was the city’s event, she added.

She said the Heart tried the rink for two seasons in order to give families an activity to enjoy together downtown. “You can’t replace those childhood memories.”

“Everybody is getting stir crazy,” McCrosky said. So for now, the Heart is figuring out ways to get people involved in the downtown, “but stay very safe.”

“The success of the telethon taught us how to do that and opened our eyes and our doors,”  to what the Heart is capable of doing in a virtual world.

For example, they had been planning on once again offering in-person tours to the second and third floors of some of the historic downtown buildings which was a popular event in the past.

But because groups shouldn’t gather during the pandemic, the Heart is looking at making a virtual tour to show online. “It could be really cool, on Zoom or live streaming, so that people can see the interesting architecture. A lot of people don’t know,” what the upstairs of these buildings look like, she said.

The Heart of Danville’s Board of Directors and previous members believe in the organization’s mission so much that they invested $2,000 of their own money to hire the company which put on the telethon, McCrosky said. Therefore the entire $6,000 in proceeds will be used for possible new events.

Even though the Heart is searching for an interim executive director, and eventually a permanent director, McCrosky said, “We’re taking it one step at a time. We have to ride out COVID.” Then she added, “The Heart of Danville is not going anywhere.”