Standing-Room-Only Spells Success

By Mary Roscoe

Standing-Room-Only Spells Success

In the San Francisco Bay Area, on the peninsula near Los Altos, six local sponsors of an evening with Richard Louv anticipated an audience of 400 to 500 max. Instead, as the parking lots overflowed and a line of cars jammed the freeway off-ramp, they had to push back the start time to give everyone a chance to settle in to the auditorium. How did a team of six spread the word and gather a standing room only crowd of over 800 for the launch of their local Leave No Child Inside initiative and what can they teach us about reaching and engaging our communities on this issue?

It was only through the combined resources of the organizational team – funding, leadership, volunteers, and community networks – that together they were able to do what they couldn’t have possibly done as individual organizations. The six members of the organizing group, made up of three of the sponsoring organizations, shared a common vision and goals.

They envisioned the evening with Richard Louv and the campaign to Leave No Child Inside, as the beginning of a local movement. The organizers knew they could not create yet another organization to begin a movement but they could create the opportunity for a movement by gathering members of the community together and providing the time and space for this possibility through Richard’s talk and a follow-up forum. This event was not just an author speaking at a local college – there was something more that clearly caught the attention and enthusiasm of educators, environmentalists, parents, and community leaders.

free play One of the first and most important goals was to make it possible for anyone interested in Leave No Child Inside the ability to come to the talk. The tickets were a minimal price and advance tickets included the parking fee. This meant that schools and organizations could buy tickets for their entire staff and individuals could buy tickets to give to friends. Advance tickets were available through one of the organization’s Web sites and a spare cell phone became the ticket office. Complimentary tickets were given to community leaders and to organizations to distribute to people who would otherwise be unable to purchase tickets. Making it easy for interested people to come was an integral part of the planning process and it contributed to the feelings of warmth and gratitude on the evening of the event.

Another goal of the organizing team was to create change through raising public awareness through this event. To kindle a simple but fundamental change, the organizers gave each member of the audience an invitation to integrate three actions into their daily life. At the end of the evening, folders were given to each person with community resources and information about the sponsors and contributors to the event. In the information folder were also ways families could connect to nature, starting from their back yard to the abundant natural resources close by in the Bay Area.

A critical point in the planning of the Leave No Child Inside event came in early July as each organization looked at the brief planning time and the reality of the ebb and flow of summer and first few weeks of school. The organizers honestly asked themselves whether they could follow through with this event on September 28th. Two days later, the team found the (C&NN) and felt energized and resolute in following through with the planning and event. The gave the organizing team the confidence that resources were in place on a national level to support the local event.

free play The information (summary of talk, Q & A, bio, and article) that Jacqueline Green, Richard Louv’s publicist, provided made it possible for the organizing team to send information by email to organizations. The organizations printed or emailed the promotional material to their community. Community members, in turn, forwarded the information to colleagues and friends. Ten thousand postcards, five hundred flyers, and seventy-five posters were printed. The postcards were also emailed to organizations and the electronic distribution of the postcards and promotional material went so far out into the community that the organizers had the odd experience of the news circling back with people telling them about the event! A banner was hung on a busy intersection of the city and there were press releases, calendar listings, and public service announcements on the radio. Other than these promotional materials, no paid advertising was done.

The organizers decided that Smithwick Theater at Foothill College, seating 900 people, was the best location for the event despite the fact that it seemed too large for this modest event. Strategies were developed to rope off parts of the auditorium in order to seat the audience in the front third of the auditorium. Two days before the event the team looked at the number of advance tickets and realized that they were expecting 600 people and could drop their strategies for roping off the auditorium. And on the evening of September 28th, everyone was amazed when over 800 people came for an evening with Richard Louv, filling nearly every seat in the auditorium.

While expressing urgent concerns about the future of children and the earth, the Leave No Child Inside event also celebrated the decades of work individuals and organizations have dedicated to connecting children with nature – the work of teachers, farmers, environmentalists, parents, and community leaders was recognized and valued. The event was a success in raising public awareness, validating the values and commitment of those already engaged in connecting children with nature in diverse community organizations, and giving a clear signal that there is enthusiasm for future action.