Serious Fun! The A&F Challenge Returns for 2021July 17, 2021 7:00 am Grant Walters
A&F Co.'s annual fundraising festival benefiting SeriousFun Children's Network resumes in-person and virtually on September 24
Central Ohio-headquartered Abercrombie & Fitch Co. recently announced the return of its yearly festival and fundraising event, The A&F Challenge, after it was paused last summer at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Challenge supports SeriousFun Children’s Network, a global community of thirty camps and programs serving children with serious illnesses and their families, always free of charge. The charitable organization was co-founded by actor, producer, director, and philanthropist Paul Newman in 1988. Since then, 1.4 million individuals have been the beneficiaries of summer camp experiences granted by the charity, and over 275,000 volunteers have donated their time to facilitate its activities and operations.
The Network includes Flying Horse Farms, located about 45 miles north of Columbus in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, where A&F Co. associates have volunteered for more than 15,000 hours since it opened in 2011.
This year’s event, which has been reimagined to offer both in-person and virtual opportunities for attendees to actively participate, will feature live music performances from headliners that include EDM DJ, producer, and songwriter Zedd, R&B singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc, and indie pop outfit Saint Motel. Columbus’ own 90’s Kids, Vesperteen, Honey and Blue, and Ghost Story will round out the stage lineup.
On-site tickets also provide access to unlimited food and beverages from local vendors – including a beer garden sponsored by Rhinegeist Brewery, a DIY apparel booth, glamp lounges, axe throwing, and hot air balloon rides. To limit capacity and prioritize health and safety during the event, which will be held on the grounds of A&F Co.’s Global Home Office in New Albany, in-person tickets are only available to adults.
While hosting The Challenge wasn’t possible last summer, there was still a compelling demand for the many services and programs SeriousFun provides to its communities.
“At the time, families asked for three things – connection, camp-quality entertainment to distract them from the pandemic, and access to resources to help them navigate all the changes that were happening around them,” explains Rachel Escusa, Chief Advancement Officer at Flying Horse Farms. “The team quickly focused on translating core camp experiences, like Campfires and Cabin Chats, to the virtual space to honor the essence of those core programs and create something only camp could offer with friendly staff and volunteer faces to offer a sense of connection. These programs also provided an opportunity to have fun and for caregivers, engage with other families with similar health concerns.”
While virtual technology has tremendous benefits, Escusa says the team had to be conscious of its limitations – especially with a young audience. “One of the main challenges was finding ways to break through the ‘Zoom fatigue’ many campers were experiencing after moving to remote schooling. Offering opportunities for authentic connections and silliness through virtual activities like Cabin Chats helped to do this and support them psychosocially. As one parent shared, it was the first time in months she heard her child really laugh.”
There were other important lessons, too.
“[We] learned kids need camp all year long”, Escusa adds. “And it’s possible to deliver authentic, virtual ways to translate [our] core value of ‘Welcome Home’ to physically-distant offerings that create a sense of belonging and joy even in the winter. For many of the kids [the camp] serves, no matter the adaptations they make possible at camp, campers may sometimes have a last minute detour and miss camp due to their illness or hospitalization. Having a virtual option allows [us] to send a bit of camp love to them no matter where they are.”
“FHF also learned how much their caregivers need camp as well,” she continues. “When the caregiver cabin chats launched, FHF discovered a void that needed to be filled for parents managing the pandemic and a child’s chronic illness at the same time. These sessions offered a powerful outlet for parents and caregivers to access connections and share resources with others going through similar challenges.”
Flying Horse Farms has also leaned further into the ways in which it supports children and families psychosocially, both in person and virtually, and has since hired a Behavioral Health Program Manager. Escusa’s hope is that the new role will help children and families work to recover and heal from the increased isolation and stress caused by the pandemic.
The camp also distributed its first ever Camp-in-a-Box kits to more than 400 children and hosted two drive-in events to bring together families in a safe, physically-distanced way. Escusa also highlighted that the virtual platform created last year will have long-term benefits for Flying Horse Farms’ traditional camp experiences by providing a program template for a future hybrid model that would be inclusive of families who might not be able to attend in-person events and activities because of their childrens’ medical conditions.
In 2016, A&F Co. and SeriousFun launched a five-year, $15 million partnership through 2021, which was inspired by company associates’ enthusiasm for volunteering for the organization. More than 100 A&F Co. associates volunteer as camp counselors at 15 camps worldwide, in addition to the company donating over $12 million and 340,000 t-shirts for campers since the partnership launched in 2016 – far surpassing the original commitment. To date, associates have spent more than 90,0000 hours volunteering across the network and have raised more than $600,000 through their own fundraising efforts.
A&F Co. employees were especially supportive of Flying Horse Farms’ work last year from a distance, creating care packages to send to campers and volunteering as counselors for virtual programming. “We channeled all of the momentum into virtually fundraising to support the camp,” says Anna Ankenbauer, A&F Co. Manager of Community Impact & Associate Engagement. “It was important that we continued our support of SeriousFun and the campers – especially during a year that they needed the magical experience of camp the most. We are incredibly proud that together with our associates and key partners, we were able to raise $1.3 million for SeriousFun in 2020.”
“The Challenge means so much to our entire community;” she continues, “which includes our associates, our business partners and our broader global community that supports SeriousFun Children’s Network. We view the evening as a celebration of our collective impact and the partnership we have with SeriousFun Children and our Flying Horse Farms, which is right in our backyard.”
Returning aspects of The Challenge to a modified in-person format has required an intensive amount of planning and strategy. “Events have changed immensely over the past year and a half, along with guest expectations,” Ankenbauer says. “We stayed closely connected to changing health and safety regulations and thought through various tiers of in-person experiences – all with the wellbeing of our guests top of mind. Ultimately, with the vaccine rollout and lifting of health regulations, we landed on hosting the Challenge both in person and virtually. It’s important for us to offer both because while the event is at our Global Home Office in New Albany, we have many guests join us each year from across the world – in 2019, we welcomed attendees from 19 different countries!”
Ankenbauer hopes that attendees will be “excited to celebrate camp with us again and have a one-of-a-kind experience at the A&F Challenge. It’s so important that we have a variety of experiences available so everyone who joins us finds something that they enjoy. We genuinely are looking forward to celebrating together again – it’s been a long year, and we hope this represents hope for the future.”
The 2021 A&F Challenge will be held Friday, September 24 from 5:00 to 11:00 pm at the company’s Global Home Office, 6301 Fitch Path in New Albany. General admission is $100, and includes access to all activities and an event t-shirt. VIP tickets are also available, offering guests an elevated experience with exclusive stage viewing areas, additional Challenge merchandise – and more. For those celebrating virtually, tickets are $25, and a virtual VIP experience kit is available for $100. All participants are invited to fundraise beyond their ticket price to raise additional money for SeriousFun via www.anfchallenge.org.