Through my work at Highmark, I have the privilege of helping nonprofits raise money for their missions via the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community. It’s a great event and I’m always amazed at how quickly it’s over! A whole year of planning comes down to just a few hours on a Saturday morning.

Friends and co-workers are always commenting on how fun it must be to plan events. And it is! But reality television shows like David Tutera’s CELEBrations or WE TV’s Platinum Weddings sometimes make it look like a snap — and I can tell you first-hand that big events require a lot of work, time and people to succeed.

Year-Round Planning Up to the Big Day

We host six Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community events across Pennsylvania and Delaware during May and June each year. Our staff and the participating nonprofits work all year on everything from planning and promoting the event, to recruiting walkers and raising funds.

I would need several blog articles to try to describe all the logistics that go into making sure that each event is safe and fun for our participants.

Harrisburg parking lot

Parking lot E-5 on the campus of Harrisburg Area Community College … before it is transformed into the central location for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community.

Just touching on a few highlights, the event website, registration, advertising and social media must all be planned and created to work in harmony. Coordination with municipalities, venues, emergency management services and traffic control takes months. Walk routes and parking plans must be put into place. Tents, tables, stage and sound systems must be secured, along with entertainment, emcees, refreshments, prizes and our ever popular event T-shirts! And let’s not forget the work crews and the many, many volunteers that are needed (and must be coordinated) to pull off the event.

All of that planning and preparation happens for months — and then the rubber really meets the road on the day before the event as the event plan is activated.

Moving truck and work crews in parking lot

It takes crews nearly 10 hours to get the venue ready for the event’s 46 nonprofits and 2,000 walkers.

The day before a Walk for a Healthy Community event is incredibly busy. Tents are erected. Tables are put into place. Deliveries to the venue are made. At this year’s Highmark Walk in Harrisburg, one crew arrived and began working on-site at 7:30 a.m., while another crew was already loading a pre-placed refreshment order at a local grocery store.

During the day, banners for each nonprofit tent were alphabetized, numbered and hung on tents. A stage was erected and a sound system was installed. Route markers were assembled and placed along the route. And, about a thousand other tasks were also completed before arriving at the end of a long day.

Row of nonprofit tents

Each of the 46 nonprofits has their own 10’ x 10’ tent for event day.

Walk for a Healthy Community: Event Day in Harrisburg

On event day for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community in Harrisburg, my balloon designer is always the first one on-site — at 5 a.m. — creating the start line balloon arch. Other crews are back at 6 a.m., for sound checks from the stage, and to unload refreshments, T-shirts and other supplies. The parking crew has a briefing and heads out to their posts.

Over the next 90 minutes, dozens of volunteers pour in to assist with a multitude of tasks — everything from setting up the information tent to placing trash cans around the site. Representatives from the nonprofits also arrive to set up their tents for the day. The stage manager takes his place at the stage to greet our emcees, Zumba team, national anthem singer and guest speakers.

I’ve done this for years, and each year I’m as nervous as the last. I can hardly stand still and spend most of the morning greeting the nonprofits and volunteers while making sure all is running smoothly in each area. 2015 was very special as it marked the 10th year for the Harrisburg event!

Walkers begin arriving around 7:30 a.m., and on-site registration opens at 7:45 a.m. The DJ starts playing, slowly the venue fills, and there’s a buzz of happiness and excitement everywhere!

Venue at start of event day

People arrive, completing the transformation from empty parking lot to festive event venue!

For the next hour, nonprofits collect donations and walkers enjoy the entertainment and activities. Our national anthem singer takes her place on the stage and for the only time that morning a hush falls over the crowd. When the national anthem is done, the emcee asks the walkers to line up and our walk marshals to get into place for the 5K as they countdown to the 9 a.m. start. Fifteen minutes later the 1 Mile Walk begins.

Therapy horse at starting line

Casper, a therapy horse from Chasing Rainbows, was the 1 Mile Walk Marshal.

In just 20 minutes, the 1 Mile walkers are back to the main area and the festive atmosphere continues. Walkers can get a screening with our friends at Visionworks, or grab a new toothbrush at the United Concordia tent. Others visit the children’s activity area hosted by the Highmark Caring Place.

Later, the 5K walkers return. Music floats over the crowd and smiles can be seen everywhere. Not a year goes by that I don’t tear up over the outpouring of support that the walkers give to our participating nonprofits.

By 11 a.m., most of the walkers are making their way home to enjoy the rest of a gorgeous day. Just like that it’s over for another year.

Large crowd on walk route

All of the Highmark Walks have both a 5K and 1 Mile route.

The Work Pays Off: Raising Money to Strengthen Our Communities

Walk event coordinators Judi Windom and Jodie Ruediger

Judi Windom, Community Affairs Analyst and Walk Volunteer Coordinator, with Jodie Ruediger, Lead Community Affairs Analyst and Walk Coordinator.

When all is said and done, the 2015 Harrisburg event included 2,000 walkers who raised more than $340,000 for 46 nonprofits.

As we begin to disassemble tents and pack up supplies, we are all thrilled that this year’s weather was great and everyone had fun. The nonprofits are excited about the funds raised and what that means for the community.

And, we are already talking about what we’ll do next year!