JDRF’s Piedmont Triad Hope Gala is the premier event of its kind in the Triad, raising over $1 million for type 1 diabetes (T1D) research for nine of the last 10 years. With 1,000 guests mixing and mingling in beautifully decorated ballrooms in Winston-Salem or Greensboro, JDRF Hope Gala Night is always one to remember.
How do you translate something so powerful into a virtual experience?
JDRF’s 2020 Piedmont Triad Hope Gala was held in Greensboro at the end of February—two weeks before the pandemic shut everything down. In fact, it was the last major event that hundreds of people attended in person.
Fast forward to May 15, 2021. The Piedmont Triad Hope Gala, presented by Truist and honoring Susan and Martin Gilmore, took place virtually, broadcast from a “studio” at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem, where the Gala is held every other year. Dozens of Watch Parties—some with four people, others with 40 or more—were held all over the Piedmont Triad and even out of state, with folks cheering remotely throughout the program.
Honorees Susan and Martin Gilmore have been passionately dedicated to a world without T1D since the morning after the 2007 Piedmont Triad Hope Gala, when their own, then-14-year-old daughter, Margaret, was diagnosed with type 1 (after Susan recognized the symptoms during the Gala). Their entire family’s willingness to share their story publicly—including Margaret assuming the role of Fund A Cure Chair—set the stage for spectacular fundraising success.
It was important to the Gala Leadership Team, including Gala Chairs Betsy Saye and Paul Fulton, that the event retain the signature elements that make it a standout every year. And so, these key elements were baked in:
- Raffle: Windsor Jewelers commissioned a spectacular “Center of My Universe” diamond pendant for the raffle. More raffle tickets were sold than at any previous, in-person Gala, and Rob Simon of Windsor Jewelers announced the raffle winner live during the program.
- Auction: Auction Chair Eva Mothershed and her committee refused to let a little thing like a global pandemic keep them from creating an exciting auction with unique packages. The opportunity for a backyard concert by American Idol season 5 winner Taylor Hicks, donated by Wendy and Brett Hoge, engendered an online bidding war, and was the most lucrative JDRF Triad auction item ever!
- Sponsors: With the efforts of Corporate Chairs Whit Edwards and Brett Hoge and Board Fundraising Chair Brad Calloway—and with longtime supporter Truist coming in once again as Presenting Sponsor—we secured more than 40 sponsors.
- Beauty of the Ballroom: Although guests couldn’t ooh and aah over a custom-designed 80’ x 120’ chandelier, created every year by Event Experience Chairs Wendy Calloway and Alejandra and Cliff Thompson plus an army of volunteers, we delivered a taste of the ballroom to Sponsors and VIP Watch Party Hosts, with Party-Starter Kits including goodies to help make Gala Night festive, including a champagne bucket and a bottle of bubbly, fixings for our Signature Cocktail, and decorative elements.
The program itself also incorporated the most iconic elements of the Triad’s in-person Galas:
- The Winston-Salem State Symphonic Band performing two numbers to lead us from the cocktail hour to the formal program;
- FOX8’s Katie Nordeen and Neill McNeill serving as MCs;
- Stories from kids, adults, and families living with T1D;
- A virtual performance by the Voices of Hope all-T1D Choir, back by popular demand after a six-year hiatus;
- JDRF Research and Advocacy updates;
- A video about the Gilmore family’s diabetes journey;
- The Beverly Berry Living and Giving Award presentation to Susan and Martin Gilmore;
- The live introduction of a 10-week-old Golden Retriever puppy, minded by Youth Ambassadors Morgan Clements, Alivia Lally, and Ella Neely, as part of the Auction;
- The presentation of Research Champion Awards to Dr. Julie Ann Freischlag of Wake Forest Baptist Health and Chris Fox of HanesBrands;
- The unveiling of our newest full-size Gala photo banners, featuring Youth Ambassadors Alivia Lally, Mary Ntirenganya, and Courtney Sutton;
- The live Fund A Cure portion of our program, which began with videos of Youth Ambassadors announcing the different levels of giving, prompting longtime supporter Shamrock Environmental Corporation to announce a surprise matching gift of $50,000 and resulting in an additional $125,000; and
- A 35-minute set by The Sleeping Booty Band to get people dancing during the virtual After-Party.
Before Sleeping Booty began playing, FOX8’s Katie Nordeen and Neill McNeill announced the incredible results: The Piedmont Triad JDRF Hope Gala did “spring powerfully,” raising $1.4 million for T1D research!