LACONIA DAILY SUN article, Nov 18, 2021
Jill Ober, Jaimie Sousa and Doug Morrissette, members of the Community Challenge team "Auction Elves," are pictured here at the Beachapalooza event they held in Center Harbor in September. Collectively, Community Challenge teams raised nearly $250,000 for the Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction last year. (Courtesy photo)
The beating heart of the Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction can still be found in a studio that appears somewhere in the area each early December, where donated items are auctioned off live and broadcast on radio, television and over the internet.
If that’s the heart, then the hands and feet are found elsewhere, in the form of the It’s for the Kids Community Challenge teams. Those teams, 42 of them, work year-round to find imaginative and usually fun ways to generate donations that are applied to the Children’s Auction fund, used to grant the wishes of local organizations that benefit children and their families.
The 40th Annual Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction will take place Dec. 7-10, and will be located at Tanger Outlets in Tilton.
How strong are these auction appendages? Put it this way: in 2020, the auction raised $561,400, which was given to 75 charitable organizations. Nearly half of that funding came from Community Challenge teams.
This is only the second year of the Community Challenge, but its roots go much deeper. The Challenge is the second generation of the Pub Mania 24-hour barstool challenge, which was started within Patrick’s Pub as a way to benefit the auction. Pub Mania raised $2.3 million over 11 years, including $355,453 in 2019. When COVID came, and it wasn’t possible to pack a pub anymore, the Community Challenge was born. Many former Pub Mania teams carried over to the Challenge, but because there was no longer a limit for the number of teams due to the fixed number of barstools, the new iteration has the potential to eclipse even the lofty heights that Pub Mania saw.
The Ladies of the Lake was one of those teams to bridge the transition from Pub Mania to the Community Challenge. It was created by members of a women’s organization, said team captain Holly Ruggieri. In 2019, she said, they decided to hold a festival of wreaths, where many different wreaths were displayed and the public could try to win their favorite.
“It went very well,” Ruggieri said, but they quickly had to find another new idea. “Last year, with COVID, what could we do? I had this crazy idea of throwing Santas out of a helicopter... Then began the Great Santa Drop. Five hundred Santas were dropped out of a helicopter,” she said. In the Santa Drop, the public is invited to sponsor a falling Father Christmas, and whoever’s Santa falls nearest to a bull’s eye wins a prize.
This year, the Ladies of the Lake are doing both the Santa Drop and the Festival of Wreaths, and they’re throwing in a craft fair for good measure. All will take place the weekend after Thanksgiving. Wreaths and crafts will be at the Boys and Girls Club, and the Santa Drop will be live streamed from a remote location.
“We just think it’s a really cool event to give people something fun to do after Thanksgiving,” said Ruggieri. Fun was a driver of Pub Mania, and it continues to be a theme for the Community Challenge teams.
Shannon Buttermore was on another team in years past, but decided this year to start a new team, Gator Graphix, named after the Gilford business she owns and operates.
“We always wanted to have our own team,” Buttermore said. Her team’s fundraising effort will occur on Dec. 4, at The Margate Resort. “We are hosting a casino night with a poker tournament and corn hole tournament,” she said.
There will be a money wheel, tables for blackjack, roulette, Texas hold ‘em and craps. General admission will come with 3,500 in chips – and more can be purchased when those run out. The big winners at the end of the night will be rewarded with prizes such as a pool stick, a big-screen TV, or cash.
“It’s awesome, we’re excited,” Buttermore said.
Another new team is the Auction Elves, led by a trio of Children’s Auction board members. Jill Ober, one of those board members, said they raised $5,000 through a “Beachapalooza” event held in September at the Center Harbor Inn. It was intended to be one last summer beach party, with live events, lawn games and great food donated by nearby restaurants Gusto and Canoe.
Despite some threatening weather, Ober said, “It ended up being really awesome.”
“Without having actual Pub Mania, we wanted to make sure the community had something fun and exciting, create a fun environment for people to relax and get outside,” Ober said.
The Auction Elves are also running sweepstakes for gift cards to Path Resorts, which operates Steele Hill Resort, the Summit Resort and the Center Harbor Inn. Visit pathresorts.com/win for more information.
Fun and joy permeate the auction, Ober said, especially at the event itself. The volunteers, spectators, and especially the people who come in to staff the phones, all experience it, she said.
“When you bring in new people and sit them down at the phone banks, then the phones ring, people get so excited that they are getting to play a small part. But it’s really the biggest part, because they bring the fun and the energy,” Ober said.
For every trend there’s an outlier, and in this case one of the teams that isn’t leveraging fun is also the team that is outpacing the others. The Lakers, made up of island and shorefront residents, collected about $7,000 last year, said founder Ripley Forbes. This year, they’ve gathered $22,000.
Forbes said that money was raised by simply asking, through the extensive, personal and often generations-deep, network of island and shorefront residents and their longtime guests.
“We don’t have any contests or games or activities,” Forbes said. “Primarily it’s friends, family of the various islanders. Word of mouth, everybody knows everybody else. If we can give them an opportunity to say, here’s this organization that’s doing good things on the shore, do you want to help, islanders will generally say, sure.”
“There’s this myth that seasonal property owners don’t care about the community, they’re just there to enjoy the lake. That’s just not true now,” Forbes said. It can be hard to reach them, though, especially in late fall. That’s why The Lakers start asking for donations earlier. “Most of our activity is done during the summer. Our audience is a summer audience, we engage them during the summer and try to get them to open their wallets before they leave.”
Allan Beetle, who started Pub Mania at Patrick’s and continues to lead the Community Challenge, has been taking notice.
“The Lakers are killing it right now,” Beetle said. He said that any team that succeeds in raising a lot of money must first succeed in communication: “The message of why we’re doing what we’re doing, they make sure they have a lot of appreciation for the people who are helping to fundraise.” He also said it’s important to set reasonable goals so that teams can come back next year. “Stay within where it’s manageable, doable and sustainable, so you’re not burning yourself out.”
Pub Mania, which grew into a 24-hour frenzy, was starting to approach that burn-out feeling, Beetle said, which is one reason why he’s pleased to see the Community Challenge succeed.
“It’s pretty rewarding for a couple of different reasons. I don’t know how long we could continue to do Pub Mania in the way we did it,” Beetle said. “This pandemic really was an opportunity to broaden all aspects of this event.”
The Community Challenge is managed by a larger committee, one with a built-in succession plan, and one that could prove to be even more productive than Pub Mania was. The Children’s Auction benefits a wide swath of central New Hampshire, but the current Challenge teams are concentrated around Laconia.
“It’s very gratifying that we can continue to raise significant funds for the Children’s Auction, and to see this continue. I think this can continue to go for a decade or more,” Beetle said. “It’s gratifying that it’s going to be more sustainable than Pub Mania could be.”
Beetle said that any person, organization or company that is interested in giving back to the community should look into creating or joining a Community Challenge team for 2022. Visit childrensauction.com/challenge for more information.
“Be part of what is a really amazing event, and it’s only going to get better,” Beetle said.