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CHICAGO On Thursday afternoon, Astellas Pharma U.S. Inc. hosted its holiday party at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare. Debbie Webber, the pharmaceutical company's assistant director of meetings and conventions, tapped Total Event Resources to assist with the planning and management of this year's event.
Although the company used to put on “your more typical bring-your-spouse evening party, a few years ago they decided to make it more about the employees and the community, and to turn the party into a luncheon with a charitable activity,” said Total Event Resources senior program manager Sarah Schnell. Astellas continued with the new format, when in-house planners got “really good feedback from employees, who said the event makes them feel great about the company they work for,” Schnell said.
Schnell said that in the past two years, the event followed “kind of a non-structured format” that allowed guests to move around from one station to the next, engaging in such activities as assembling coloring books for local children or helping to construct teddy bears or Radio Flyer wagons.
This year, organizers decided to change things up by organizing the 650 attendees into teams and assigning each group to the same task: All guests were responsible for helping to build a bike that would be given to a child from the nonprofit organization Chicago Youth Centers at the end of the day.
As a surprise to employees, Webber wanted the children to pour into the ballroom just as the bikes were completed. So as partygoers were busy assembling the toys, a shuttle service was transporting more than 40 members of Chicago Youth Centers to the event. “We had to take a gamble in terms of timing,” Schnell said. “We knew it could take the kids anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to get to the hotel. We had to think 'how does this fit into the flow of the event, how do we keep this a surprise and create the drama when the kids come pouring in?'”
Ultimately, all kids were in place for their 3:30 entrance into the ballroom, which was the “moment that tugged on the heart strings,” Schnell said. Just as employees didn't know the kids would be on site, there was a surprise in store for the young guests. They had been told in advance that “there was a company that wanted to do something really nice for them, but they didn't know that they would be getting bikes.”
And when they discovered what their take-home gift would be, “the kids were just so excited,” Schnell said. “By the end of the event, they were taking pictures with Astellas employees and riding their bikes around the ballroom. And some of the kids didn't know how to ride bikes, so they learned that day."