With the annual Spring Fling fundraiser canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the board of directors and staff of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies had to come up with another way to raise money for the Homer environmental education organization.
In collaboration with Pier One Theatre, they’ll hold the Coastal Cosmic Telethon, a combination live and virtual telethon to run 3-7 p.m. Sunday, July 26, at its headquarters on Lake Street and on the Coastal Studies website at https://www.akcoastalstudies.org.
“We thought, ‘What else are we going to do?’” said Coastal Studies Treasurer Kelli Parker in a Zoom interview last Thursday. She was joined by Pier One director Jennifer Norton and Coastal Studies Executive Director Beth Trowbridge. “… The idea came, ‘Let’s do something virtual.’ I thought, ‘Let’s do a telethon. Let’s do something like PBS.’ Then the creativity started from there.”
Parker said they didn’t want it to be a regular telethon.
“That’s when we cooperated with Pier One Theatre and decided ‘Let’s make this really entertaining and fun. Let’s bring the entire community together,’” she said.
During the telethon, people from anywhere with an internet connection can visit the Coastal Studies website, its Facebook page or its YouTube channel and watch the event live. Emcees Asa Panarelli and Jonah Parker and auctioneer Dave Aplin will keep the action going. People can stop by the Coastal Studies headquarters for light refreshments and music by the Homer Ukulele Group. Tents will be set up in the parking lot outdoors to keep people COVID-19 safe, and people are asked to wear face coverings and practice social distancing, Trowbridge said.
“It’s going to be fun to see Jonah and Asa play off each other,” Parker said. “It’s also cool because these kids have known each other since before school.”
Norton put out a call for short skits using prompts like a nature tour from an animal’s perspective. Playwrights Brenda Dolma, Carl Young, Kelli Park and Dawson Moore wrote five short plays for the telethon.
“What we got from the playwrights was a lot of personification of local wildlife — really fun scripts,” Norton said. “I’m really excited.”
With its summer performing season canceled because of the pandemic, Pier One has been looking for innovative ways to present live theater. They have done radio theater and Zoom readings. The short skits will be performed off site and under safe conditions, with the skits broadcast from the Coastal Studies websites during the telethon. The telethon also will be live streamed from the Coastal Studies headquarters.
Throughout the telethon, people can tune in and call at 907-235-6729 to make donations. For the live auction, people can text bids at 907-299-5106. The telethon also is a membership drive. Any donation automatically makes the donor a member of Coastal Studies, Trowbridge said. That means benefits like free admission to the Wynn Nature Center on East Skyline Drive and free use of snowshoes in the winter at the center. Donations at higher levels also get benefits like free yurt stays at the Peterson Bay Field Station.
“In terms of our membership we’re trying to give people more access to our facilities,” Trowbridge said.
Trowbridge said there will be a few surprises offered throughout the telethon to entice people to join or donate.
“We have some pretty cool items set aside we will feature each hour,” she said. “… There are some things we put out there to incentivize calling in.”
A “buy it now” auction started on July 15 for special items, like a bear viewing trip with Sasquatch Alaskan Adventures or a kayak trip for two with True North Kayak.
Summer is Coastal studies’ busiest season, with revenues from programs funding 60% of its budget. With the pandemic Coastal Studies had to cancel some spring programs. It’s now running all its summer programs, like guided tide pooling tours at the Peterson Bay Field Station, nature tours at the Wynn Nature Center or the Creatures of the Dock tours at the Homer Harbor. Summer camps for kids also are going. Everything is run with COVID-19 safe procedures following Coastal Studies’ mitigation plan.
“The biggest thing is we have really reduced our numbers,” Trowbridge said. “Even our guided walks are limited to 10 people. Our dock tours are limited to eight.”
Coastal Studies got a grant from the Homer Foundation to put together individual kits for student campers so they don’t have to share things like pencils, markers and so on. Face masks are required at all facilities. Campers also get daily health screenings.
“Or course they’re outside,” Trowbridge said of many activities. “We try to have as many opportunities at the Wynn. Space apart, take our masks off, breathe some fresh air.”
Having smaller groups does have an upside though, she said.
“There’s some good things that come out of slowing down a little bit,” she said. “… You get a more intimate experience. … We have more local people coming here, more local families, more local people from in state.”
Trowbridge said revenues have been about 20-25% of a normal summer. She said if they can make 50% of their average revenues they’ll be doing well.
“When you’re a nonprofit, when you get (admission) revenue, in some ways that’s a good thing,” she said. “You’re less dependent on government funding, but when something like this happens, it’s challenging.”
Coastal Studies did get a Payroll Protection Program grant for when its spring programs got canceled. It also got a grant under the City of Homer’s CARES Act grant program.
Norton said Pier One Theatre has faced similar fundraising challenges because of canceling revenue-generating programs.
“It’s so important to get creative about how we fund raise,” she said. “This is a really fun way to do that.”
In Homer’s tight nonprofit world, organizations like Pier One and Coastal Studies have often thought of exploring collaborations, but have often been so busy they haven’t had the time and energy to make those happen, Norton said. That’s one silver lining to the pandemic.
“Usually we’re really busy to reach out and form those bonds,” she said. “… I think there are a lot of wonderful opportunities there that will last long after this current situation.”
Trowbridge said the Cosmic Coastal Telethon should be fun..
“We’re just hoping this is an opportunity for a small little celebration in the community,” she said. “People doing something fun, silly, entertaining, uplifting. … That’s a big part of why we’re doing this.”
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.