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The 2020 Overnight: Turning a Special Night into a Memorable Virtual Experience

26 Jun 2020 — 3 min read

By Erin Kenny, AFSP Manager, Out of the Darkness Walks

Photo collage

Being the Boice – That’s Voice with an Accent – for the Voiceless

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s annual Overnight Walk – an event at which those affected by suicide come together to walk over 16 miles through the night, raising awareness and funds for this leading cause of death – holds a special place in many people’s hearts. The first Overnight Walk was held in the summer of 2002 in Washington, D.C., and has since become AFSP’s flagship event. 

The 2020 Overnight was not what we had expected it to be when we launched the event in December of 2019. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to hold the event in-person this year. Rather than canceling, we introduced the first ever “Virtual Overnight Experience,” featuring Social Media Activations and an Activity Tracking Challenge throughout the month of June, as well as special programming during the Event Weekend, June 20-21.

It was important to us to provide the Overnight Community, many of whom participate in this special event year after year, a program that includes the space to honor our loved ones, themselves, and each other. With the Virtual Overnight Experience, we feel we were able to come close, and it’s thanks to all of our participants, supporters, donors, and staff that we were able to create this unique new experience.

The Virtual Overnight Experience started on June 1 with a 25-day Wellness Challenge, in honor of what would have been our 25th in-person Overnight Walk. The Wellness Challenge allowed participants to take daily actions – for instance, going for a walk around the neighborhood while wearing their Overnight t-shirts (and masks) – to shed light on mental health in their own communities. Participants collectively logged 9,506 activities over 5,400 hours, including unique activities such as building an obstacle course, horseback riding, and making face masks. They walked 24,263 miles, took 50 Million steps, and had 85 #RealConvos about mental health. We used social media as a way for participants to connect with each other throughout the month of June, through The Overnight Walk’s Facebook, Twitter, as well as AFSP’s national Instagram, to stay up-to-date with each other. 

The Event Weekend took place on June 20 and 21 via The Overnight's Participant Portal, and is now available publicly for viewing and sharing. The program began with a panel discussion, “Caring For Your Mental Health,” featuring AFSP’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Christine Moutier; and Vice President of Mission Engagement, Dr. Doreen Marshall. This was followed by a virtual Honor Bead Ceremony, an opportunity for those affected by suicide to share their personal connection to the cause. The Honor Beads are an important part of The Overnight – each color represents a different personal connection to the cause, and helps participants identify others who share a similar experience.

A musical performance by Louis Knight, an artist featured on American Idol, was followed by inspiring closing remarks from AFSP’s Chief Executive Officer, Robert Gebbia. The program closed on Sunday morning with a special thank you mosaic - a culmination of the hard work from all participants. The mosaic was accompanied by the a capella group Crosstown Vocal's rendition of the song Hallelujah.

Photos courtesy of Diane G.

The Virtual Overnight Experience had over 3,300 registered participants, and raised over $1.6 million, funds that will make it possible to continue bringing hope and support for those affected by suicide to communities nationwide.

We'd like to thank our sponsors, Alkermes and Sunovion, for their support, as well as our tech sponsors, Qumu and CDVS, for making our program possible. 

Finally, we want to thank all of our participants in the Virtual Overnight Experience for their understanding, love, and dedication. To all of our participants: you are the reason this new experience was special and successful. You are the ones who make it possible for AFSP to continue our life-saving work. Most importantly, you provide an important reminder to people everywhere that they are not alone.

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