SALT LAKE CITY — Running races, high school proms and other events aimed at benefiting a social cause are being converted into a virtual format in order to to go forward amid COVID-19 restrictions.
Each day, officials announce that more meetings and events are pushed back, canceled altogether or will be funneled into a virtual format instead.
Classes for both university and K-12 students made the transition online throughout March, with government meetings, and other groups following suit. Gyms are hosting classes online, and bands — forced to cancel upcoming gigs — are turning to the internet and social media to perform music instead.
With school closures, events like graduations, sporting events and prom are also canceled, but a University of Utah master’s of business creation student is now stepping in to help put on a nationwide prom — virtually.
Taylor Buckley, co-founder of event planning app My School Dance, said the prom will take place over four different Saturday nights starting April 18, each for a different region.
Students can register online for free through the Virtual Prom website and will receive a link prior to the event that will enable them to join.
“Seniors in high school have basically had their senior year stolen from them from no fault of their own,” Buckley said, explaining that the group is trying to bring high schoolers together to facilitate “social and emotional learning” while maintaining Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
Students are encouraged to get dressed up for the dance — clothing rental service Charlotte’s Closet will provide dresses to girls in need for free. Music will also be taken care of. DJ Juone, the Utah Jazz’s official DJ, is putting on the music for the Mountain Standard prom. Other local DJ’s will do the same in their respective regions, Buckley said.
Though free for students, My School Dance organizers are asking for donations to benefit No Kid Hungry — an organization that uses donations to send emergency grants to food banks and community groups as well as divert resources to at-risk children to ensure they still have access to meals despite school closures.
Buckley said it’s been heartbreaking to see all of the prom cancellations and postponements, but she anticipates a great deal of interest in the virtual prom.
Organizers said the website initially crashed because there were so many people trying to access the information at once. As of Friday morning, over 300 students are registered.
Buckley said that My School Dance’s mission is to facilitate interactions between students at a time when they may feel cut off. Though the virtual prom is not face-to-face, she believes it will still help curate an experience where students can grow together.
“It’s actually giving them a place to interact with each other and giving them a specific time to interact with each other,” Buckley said. “We think the interactions between the kids are so valuable for everything they are going to experience after high school. Situations like prom really help to set that foundation.”
Hosts of other events like road races benefiting social causes are also barreling forward virtually both in and outside of Utah.
Paul Umbaugh, a sport management student at Washington State University, is putting on a 5K event with other students in his sport management class to benefit the Lauren McCluskey Foundation.
Though originally planned to take place at a local park, Umbaugh said the run was converted into a virtual event. Participants, which included people in Wisconsin, Oregon, California and Washington, could complete the 5K between April 4 and Saturday.
Participants paid an entry fee — some donating extra — and completed the run on their own or with people from their household while tracking it with run tracker Map My Run. Results were shared on various social media pages and each participant will be sent a certificate of achievement.
The Lauren McCluskey Foundation honors Lauren McCluskey, a University of Utah track athlete from Washington who was murdered on campus in October 2018.
“Lauren McCluskey grew up in Pullman, Washington, and she was a track athlete here at the high school,” Umbaugh said. “Her parents are still here at WSU — they work here — so we just wanted to give to their foundation.”
He said response to the change was largely positive and that in a way it’s been a good thing as people from other states have been able to participate.
Umbaugh said they’ve raised a little over $1,700 for the foundation so far.
Lora Erickson, founder of the Race for Grief, also plans to go forward with her race, slated to take place on Memorial Day.
“Being a runner myself, I feel everything has been pulled out from under us. I didn’t really want to postpone the event — I wanted to keep it on the same day, but also honor the social distancing requirements,” Erickson said.
The race, which is carried out in honor of deceased loved ones, will also be done virtually. Participants can share their results via social media.
Erickson said she thinks that people are looking for familiarity right now, which is in part why she wanted to proceed with the race in whatever way she could.
There are benefits to virtual racing, too, she explained, listing lessened costs and increased accessibility as examples.
“I think at home we’re all dealing with this isolation. I think it’s kind of a form of grief in a sense,” Erickson said. “Part of the reason I do this race is to teach people to grieve healthily and you grieve healthy by managing it in a healthy way. An outlet for that for me has been running over the years.”