Last August, as planning for the Fare for Friends finale was well underway, there was also talk of what would replace the long-running United Way fundraiser. The committee was looking for new ideas and when they came up with one, they knew it would be a challenge.
“We started putting the pieces together and we had the idea by the time Fare for Friends took place last year, we just weren’t ready to announce it,” explained Joanne Langlois, co-chair of the Rockin’ the Big House planning committee and long-time United Way KFL&A volunteer. “We knew it was going to be challenging to switch gears to something totally new and different, but we were really excited too.”
Lining up the bands was the first step for the event and that ended up being the easy part compared to actually executing a rock concert in a historic prison.
“The logistics of everything has been fascinating,” said Langlois. “This isn’t a venue designed for a concert, and we really wanted to focus on making this a world class event for the bands, partners, sponsors and the community. We want to create an amazing experience and have people asking what we are doing next year and we want them to be a part of it again.”
The hope is that Rockin’ the Big House becomes an annual event, perhaps in different venues across the city.
“We are creating a whole new brand of event and that has been very exciting to see come together,” said Langlois. “We really want to learn from this year and be able to apply all of that to the years to come.”
The event has also been a new experience for the United Way. After 25 years, Fare for Friends was well-oiled in terms of planning, but starting fresh on a new and totally different event has been interesting.
“In terms of charity concerts, usually the charity isn’t so heavily involved. This has been a new experience for everyone – the United Way, the committee members and even the professionals who have been brought on to help ensure the day runs well,” said Bhavana Varma, President and CEO of United Way KFL&A. “Doing it this way maximizes what comes back to the United Way and most importantly, the community.”
Planning was a little easier thanks to already existing partnerships between United Way, the Correctional Service of Canada, the City of Kingston and the St. Lawrence Parks Commission.
“Our partnerships really make this possible and everyone has really put in so much effort – it is a community effort,” said Varma. “We’ve all pitched in to make this event a success and I can’t say enough about the amazing volunteer response we’ve had as well – more than 100 volunteers to help out at the event.”
The community effort also extends to the food and beverage vendors that will be on site.
“We really wanted to keep it local and we are so proud of all the vendors that have come forward and all the local community that has supported us,” said Korinne Peachey, co-chair of the Food and Beverage Committee. “It really is remarkable to have all of this support for an event like this.”
The biggest worry for the committee at this point – just over a month out – is that something has been overlooked or forgotten. The committee continues to meet weekly and will likely meet even more as the date gets closer and they are all looking forward to seeing it all come together.
“I’m looking forward to the after party!” joked Langlois. “No, I’m really looking forward to seeing the first band take the stage and seeing that we did it. I want to feel the energy and enjoy the moment and know that we did it all and we did it for a great cause.”
For more information about Rockin’ the Big House visit https://www.unitedwaykfla.ca/rockin-the-big-house/