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Cause to celebrate in community

February 20, 2009

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Community bluegrass concert: Virginia, USA
Host: Amherst County Habitat

On January 3, 2009, a Habitat affiliate in Amherst County, Virginia hosted its sixth annual Bluegrass concert. The first, held at a local high school, drew a small local crowd. Now, the annual event is an entirely community-based effort that overflows the local auditorium and busies the hands of some 50 performers and 60 volunteers.

We had a conversation with Craig Cassell, Executive Director of Amherst County Habitat, and Lynn Kables, the concert’s event planner, who offer their perspective on what makes an event successfully raise consciousness and funds–as well as build local support in the long-term.

How many people typically turn up at the concerts?
Lynn: The auditorium holds 640 people, and the event has sold out completely for the past four years.

How would you describe the crowd?
Lynn: Quite mixed…some people work with Habitat or are Habitat homeowners, but know little about bluegrass. Others are bluegrass lovers or fans of a particular local bluegrass group, but know little about Habitat.

What do you feel that people come away with?
Lynn: First and foremost, the event allows the attendees to have a good time. The audience is reminded from the stage that we are all—performers, volunteers, audience members—contributing by attending this event. Attendees are also addressed from the stage by our local Chaplain and by at least one Habitat homeowner, who speak about the value of Habitat in our community. Habitat staff members also address the crowd about the need for volunteers.

Please explain a few key steps that you took to plan this event.
Lynn: There are three key elements to the event’s success. First, no one pays for anything except the sound system rental, and that’s a partial donation. All music, production, food preparation, program ads, ticket sales, are services provided free of charge by someone in the community. Second, local newspapers and media help us to publicize the event. We also ask participating bands to let their fans know about the concert at their performances and on their websites. Third, the Amherst community really gets behind this event, and is willing to come out and enjoy it every year!

Tips from Amherst County Habitat:

  • Pick an event that people in your area will be interested in.
  • Make sure that the date of your event does not conflict with other events in the community.
  • Keep costs down by finding willing donors and volunteers. It is worth spending time on an event for a long time to get it right.
  • Build collaborations that will last beyond the event. Find organizations and people in your community who agree with the goals, activities and achievements of your organization and find a way for them to help.
  • Give public thanks to the contributions that everyone has made to make your event possible.

Thanks Lynn and Craig!