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358. Thankful. Createathon 2011.

I just realized that I have yet to post anything here about this year's CreateAthon. (In the past, I had written about what I learned during my first toe-dip into the 24 hour creative marathon.) With Thanksgiving coming along in a few days the timing couldn't be better, even if this article is some two months late. Sometimes, forgetfulness is all part of the plan, I suppose.

Freddie cheering on our team around midnight:

A little background. CreateAthon was started by two Riggs Partners, Cathy Monetti and Teresa Coles when discussing how an all-nighter would help them get everything done. Being the compassionate souls that they are, it didn't take long for them to make the leap to doing that for charity. Maybe five seconds. Flash forward 14 years and CreateAthon is now a growing, national movement giving communications firms the opportunity to give back to non-profit organizations in a concentrated effort. I have no idea how many studios or agencies have participated, or how many great organizations have been helped, but the number is a big one. A lot of good has been done under this banner. This past month, CreateAthon itself became a non-profit, in order to better serve its purpose.

Riggs Partners WECO sign, pretty cool, eh?

My individual contributions to this event have been small, but I've enjoyed every bit of it. In 2009, I drove down to the WECO building, World Headquarters for Riggs Partners, and pitched in on an effort to help the Palmetto Opera, a small, non-profit outfit trying to hold quality Opera events in South Carolina. It was a dizzying blur of activity from the moment I stepped into the building. Before I even had my first cup of coffee we were off and running. In the next 23 hours, we concepted an event idea that would help change their marketing plan, designed a fairly thorough identity system, a small but punchy ad campaign, and we even started on a website — foreshadowing a fairly ambitious goal two years later in my next CreateAthon.

Identity created for the Palmetto Opera. I liked the subtlety of the P + O icon, that also has a strong resemblance to that little thing that dangles in your throat, as seen by someone singing...opera of course.

This past year, I really didn't know if I was going to be able to make the cross-country flight back to South Carolina, or whether it would fit in with my schedule here at Engine Company 1. Sometime in August, I received a few emails from a friendly gal saying she has secured a flight for me to attend CreateAthon. Now, in my head, I thought maybe there was a little fund saved up for organizational things or whatnot, but I really didn't think too much about it, other than I was excited to be a part and donate my time and um... talents... to good use. I checked the schedule with the EC1 partners and said yes. I'm glad I did.

What I didn't realize was that my attendance was a gift of sorts. (I'm not saying it was a good gift per se, but a gift nonetheless, ha.) Apparently, Cathy had worked with a group called The Cooperative Ministry in the recent past, developing a fund-raising campaign called, With A Little Love. (I can't think of a better organization/effort for the holidays than this, by the way.) The campaign took a cue from the Hootie & The Blowfish song, Hold My Hand, and was designed to educate others about the plight of the working poor and to encourage song downloads and donations. You can buy the song, performed by The Benedict College Gospel Choir, here. You'll be hard pressed to spend a better .99 cents.

With A Little Love:

The Cooperative Ministry overhead Cathy talking about hoping to have me out for the upcoming CreateAthon, and as a thank you for all the work she (and the whole of Riggs) are doing for the group — they bought me a ticket. I didn't know any of this, of course, because they were keeping the whole thing a surprise. For all I knew the ticket was coming from Riggs and was business-as-normal. I was still thankful, but unaware of all the things that had transpired in order to bring me back. 

The first I heard of how I came to be sitting around the de-briefing table to kick of CreateAthon 2011, was at that very meeting. I was told that The Cooperative Ministry had paid for my trip out there as a thank you gift to Cathy, and that she was incredibly happy about all of this. I was incredibly taken off guard, flattered, a little embarassed, and a bit scared.

The Meeting looked a little like this (from 2010 Createathon, which I missed):

Because of all of this, I will never work on a project with more pressure surrounding it. I was determined to make good on this generous gesture on my behalf, knowing the whole time that my best efforts may still come up short to their kindness. I have known Cathy for some five years now, and really wanted to produce work and results that befitted all the effort that went into my arrival. What added even more pressure to the situation, was learning that my organization's goal this year was to have a deep, fully-developed website built from scratch in one day. The organization, a joint effort between The Columbia Opportunity Resource, The Central Carolina Community Foundation, Navigating from Good to Great (and others), had joined in a goal to help raise college-level graduation rates, itself an effort to raise the region's economic and social standing. I was pretty excited to help, but knew we had a huge task in front of us.

One of the best things about CreateAthon is the people you meet, and this year was no different. I would be working with the excellent TrueMatter, an interactive and usability consultancy to design and build this site. Partner Dean Schuster, a super cool guy who just happens to be running in the Antarctica Marathon in 2012, headed up a small team that I would be joining for the day, (Lies! I would be joining for the day + two and a half hours,) along with a wonderful writer, Kathryn White. I could not have teamed up with better, more welcoming folks. I'd like to say that, they would say that, we all worked seamlessly. Got that? I was in charge of the new design, but talked a little programming. They were in charge of development and talked about design. Kathryn provided content, but helped guide the design and site too. On and on this collaboration went, with a speed I had never heretofore experienced.

Dean is going to run with the penguins:

*By the way, Dean has to raise $30,000 to run in the marathon, as it's just as much of a charity event as it is athletic competition. You can donate your other .99 here. (That's $1.98 more than I have ever asked of my readers, all in one article. Not sure I'll ever do this again, but these are worthy causes, and wonderful people. The kind you want to help, doing things worth doing.)

Back to CreateAthon—we had to move fast. Some seven hours into the project, we decided to change the name of our cause, which sent a domino effect, well, into effect. I had to scrap all my design work and start over. The dev team had to rethink what they were doing, and had to set up new domains and hosting. And we still had content to write. So instead of 24 hours, we had 17 to do what was considered impossible anyway. To tell you the truth, I don't remember how it all went down, except that by our 9:30 AM client meeting, we were still making small changes to the site and walked into the presentation with the freshest, out-of-the-oven, website ever presented in the history of website presentations. You can view, The Graduation Imperative site, here. TrueMatter rocked it.

The Graduation Imperative Identity:

We walked the client through the new name. The new identity system. The new photography library. (Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that a photographer, Jeff Amberg, donated his time and went to the local colleges taking great shots of students earning their degrees. Or goofing off between earning their degrees. Either way, the shots were great.) We also presented the entire website, already up and running — complete with a nice jump on blog entries, sections for concerned business, students and schools. I'm not sure I've ever been more proud of work, not just because of how fast it all came together, but also because of the team that got it there.

The other great aspect about CreateAthon are the clients. I think because of the way they are selected, and the fact that they are really trying to do some good in the world with limited means, the clients seem genuinely thankful in a way that makes every client meeting afterward seem less rewarding. There were tears of joy. Applause. And yes, hugs. In a client meeting. If you have never experienced that, I would suggest that you and your agency sign up to be a Createathon partner next year. You will not regret it.

This year's group, before all the blood, sweat and tears were spilled:

After it was all over and I was flying back to California, I couldn't help but wonder whether or not I was worth the price of the flight. Why on earth was I—and whatever I can do with an idea and a computer in a day—a gift to someone from someone I had never met? I wondered whether or not I had made good on that gift. I still wonder that, actually. But as the last few weeks have passed and Thanksgiving approaches, I have realized that the gift was given to me. A gift of another experience that I will never forget, experienced with friends that—although we don't get to spend much time together—have a bond forged by a few long, caffeine-fueled, ambitious, daring, incredibly fun hours each fall spent in the service of others.

To get a better sense of what it's like, check out this video, produced—you guessed it— totally during the 24 hours of this year's CreateAthon by Emulsion Arts from Charlotte, NC.

One last time, if you can help spread the word about With A Little Love, it would help me pay off a little debt. (Obviously, I know where my donation money is going this year.)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, hope this is a little nudge to get out there and give something to someone.

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Reader Comments (6)

You worked magic as always. Such a pleasure to work alongside you again!
November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Turner
You were absolutely a gift, in a thousand ways. Thank you for this beautiful post, Jason. So many generous people. So much good!
November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Monetti
honored to share creative insomnia with you

- D
November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDean
Jason, thank YOU. Great job at summing up the glory, chaos and wonderfulness that is CreateAthon. One of the best written expressions of a journey through the 24 hours. I wish we had gotten to hang out more but clearly, you were a busy man and clearly, you earned the price of your ticket. No question. Happy Thanksgiving.
November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeyton Rowe
Great to see you again this year Jason. You killed it. What's more, your team proved the theory of relativity; that when it comes to creative light, time isn't linear, or something like that. Let's do it again, and again...
November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Fulton
Official CreateAthon stats:

75 agencies, 3 universities, 1 corporation, and 1 club have partcipated in CreateAthon.

1,100 non-profits served with 2,500 projects valued at $12 million.

And growing.... :)
November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Goulet

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