Supporters Go 'Over The Edge' To Raise Money For Flynn Center
If you happen to be in downtown Burlington on Sept. 5, don't be alarmed if you look up and see scores of people rappelling down the side of a tall building. It's not a SWAT team, it's a brave and dedicated group of ordinary folks taking part in a fundraiser for the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.
Called "Over the Edge," this flashy fundraiser has been done in other U.S. cities, but it'll be the first time the Queen City has seen the event. The Flynn Center, which only garners about 60 percent of its budget from ticket sales, is embracing the new idea to raise money.
Volunteers sign up to rappel down the Courtyard Marriott Harbor Hotel, donate $100 and then enlist others to support their daring effort. The money raised will support the Flynn Center’s operations, including a range of education programs for kids.
Former Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling, Mayor Miro Weinberger, and beloved Lake Monsters mascot "Champ" are braving the descent for the cause, too.
“We were looking for a fundraiser that was a little bit different,” says Leigh Chandler, the Flynn Center's director of marketing and communications.
“I think the hope is that this becomes a yearly thing,” she says. Because there’s already a waiting list this year to rappel down the 9-story building, “we're hoping that the people that come to us after we hit capacity will be interested in doing it next year.”
Going ‘over the edge’ is the scariest part
Chandler says Petra Cliffs, a local rock climbing gym, is offering a free course for Flynn Center volunteers so they can learn how to rappel beforehand. But the national fundraiser is run by an experienced organization so even people who show up the day of with no prior training can descend the building safely.
Still, Chandler says she won’t be going over the edge of the building this year. “It's not that I'm chicken, I have to work the event!” she says with a laugh.
Around the country the event has been conducted on 30-story buildings with glass walls, so the 9-story brick descent isn’t too crazy, says Flynn Board Member Chico Lager, who helped bring the event to Burlington.
“I've been up on the balcony, and there are great views of Lake Champlain,” he says. “I'm sure it's going to be a great adrenaline rush when those hundred people take that first step off the balcony.”
Flynn Center supporters agree.
Scared of heights
“I’m rappelling because I'm afraid of heights,” says Nichole Magoon, who works at Champlain College. “But I love to do anything that challenges and scares me. And the Flynn is such a great cause … that when I saw this happening I just said, ‘You know, whatever it is, I'll do it.’ “
Lisa Getty from Champlain, New York, feels the same way; the first-time rappeler will be going over the edge on her birthday.
“I've decided the scary part is looking over the edge,” she says. “I feel like it's going to be scary but not hard. So if I can somehow get over the edge without looking down ... I'm going to be fine."
“My husband, meanwhile, is using it as an excuse to buy a Go Pro camera, which he wants to attach to my helmet so that he can watch me screaming and crying the whole way down,” she says.
Magoon chimes in that her financial backers want video proof as well: “I had friends donate who said, 'The video of you must be amazing, I expect tears!' ”
Andrea Charest, who co-owns Petra Cliffs Climbing Center & Mountaineering School, says the event organizers have double protections for the rappelling volunteers, so even an inexperienced person will be able to descend safely.
“But having a little bit of experience just helps you sleep the night before,” she says. Her school is offering free training to volunteers who want to learn and practice rappelling in the gym first.
Volunteers who have named their team the “Wobbly Knees Brigade” practiced recently at Petra Cliffs, and are gearing up for the big day. They even filmed a dramatic video with a drone swooping off the edge of the 9-story Marriott building to drum up more financial support for their big descent.