Saturday night was something special. After months of planning, we finally held our main fundraiser for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, and it was incredible. Planning Champaign-Urbana's first ever Light the Night walk proved to be a great challenge, but came as a huge success. For those who could not attend, I'd like to talk about how it went, how we overcame some of the many obstacles in our path, and also some of my personal thoughts looking back on how such a wonderful event came to be.
When I first really learned about Light the Night, way back at the SSA conference in July, I knew I wanted to be a part of the fundraising walk. But it was here we had our first real setback. The closest registered walk to our university was located in Chicago, too far away to go to the actual walk. We decided to press on and signed up as a virtual team. Normally these teams, lacking the official resources such as Light the Night's signature illuminated balloons, T-shirts, and predetermined walking routes, fundraise almost entirely with smaller events such as BBQ's or general fundraising. As important as those are, both ISSA and I wanted to do more. So we decided we would disregard the norm and organize our own Light the Night walk in Champaign, something that had never been done in my time at the university.
While the lack of organizational infrastructure that came with organizing a virtual walk meant some disadvantages in terms of the on-the-ground support and the guarantee of a large attendance, it came with the advantage of the freedom to do our own thing and the creative license to make this walk our own. Lacking the illuminated balloons, we decided glowstick bracelets would be just as cool. When people started showing up in the evening, before the walk, we got to hang out on the quad and socialize together with music playing (most of which themed around walking) and food ready to eat (we had sandwiches graciously donated by Silver Mine Subs).
By eight o’clock everyone was having a great time all decked out in glowsticks; it was time to get things moving. I got up and gave a brief speech on what the LLS does, the services they provide, and how every donation made is matched by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. I then had the honor of introducing the Mayor of Champaign, Don Gerard, to speak. He thanked everyone for attending, and spoke prominently on how being a good person is not dependent on what you believe, but on getting out there and doing good works to back up your beliefs; a philosophy I hold near and dear to my heart.
From there we started walking. It was a relatively short walk around the campus, but for about 20 minutes we were one group, all together for a common cause. To be a part of that group was such an incredible feeling. After finishing our walk, giving away prizes (many thanks to Maize Mexican Grill, Beef Stand, and Fat Sandwich for donating gift certificates), and thanking all who came, I felt a wave of pride rush over me, watching an event that I planned and organized (with endless help from the other officers) come to a successful close. After counting everything, at the end of the night we had raised $330. We are now approximately $200 away from our $2,000 goal.
Speaking as one of the leaders of a secular student group, looking back on this walk gives me an impression that means more to me than the number of attendees or the money we raised. The Illini Secular Student Alliance at that moment was more than an organization with a common nonreligious identity, it was a community.
We came together to help an essential organization through both this Light the Night and the month long Hug an Atheist campaign. In order for events such as these to come together, a Secular Secular Alliance has to be more than just a Facebook group with a weekly meeting. There needs to be a common bond of friendship between its members, a bond that drives them to attend meetings even though the topic may not interest them, or spend four hours in the cold asking for donations, even as their voice grows hoarse from shouting. It is being a community which allows groups like ours to pull off such incredible events.
And I am so thankful for the community we have with the Illini Secular Student Alliance.