What started as a good-intentioned fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation went sideways on the Internet and ended with hurt feelings and the event’s cancellation.
South Kamloops secondary student Olivia Hughes said Friday she and her 19-year-old friend Amanda Sullivan — who has diabetes — organized a dance with disc jockeys called Sounds of Solstice.
The dance was to be held on Thursday night, the winter solstice, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the Kamloops Convention Centre at the Coast Hotel. The early version of the event was planned as a 16-plus dance with a beer-garden type area for 19-and-older participants.
As the date drew nearer, Hughes said, the event was changed to a non-alcoholic dance.
Hughes is also in her school’s Global Awareness group. She wanted to use some of the money the group has raised to print tickets, but was told by principal Cale Birk that wasn’t allowed.
The 585 dance tickets were printed with Global Awareness on them because she thought it could be considered a donation. Birk asked her to remove any association with SKSS, including that group, because it implied school support and supervision.
The girls marked it off the tickets and sold 400. They expected to sell out at the door. The two reassured Birk on Thursday morning there was no alcohol involved.
But the event went from being advertised on Facebook, which is what Hughes and Sullivan were using to communicate, to other Internet sites where it was still listed as a dance with alcohol being served.
And some kids started tweeting that it was a rave.
Unknown to the two girls, adults were getting other messages and their concern was growing.
Birk told The Daily New one website he saw advertised the event as a joint effort of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and SKSS’s Global Awareness group, and that alcohol was on the menu.
Parents were calling, wondering about the event and whether the school was backing it.
Birk contacted school district Supt. Terry Sullivan, who instructed him to send out a phone voice message to parents advising them the event had nothing to do with the school.
The message went out to parents of a few schools advising them the event wasn’t a school dance and alcohol might be involved.
“This is one of the issues with events that go online. They spread from site to site to site. As much as the information may have changed, I don’t think it kept up with what was circulating,” he said.
The school hasn’t held dances for a few years because of drugs and alcohol becoming a problem.
“It gets harder to get people to supervise those events,” he said.
Hughes said one of the reasons for holding a dance was because the school doesn’t have them any more.
“I thought it would be a great time and people would happily dance,” she said. “We had security and first aid. We had people at the door. We had tickets sold. We had eight or nine DJs set up.”
But Birk wasn’t the only one getting calls.
“Thursday morning, we started getting some phone calls. It started with parents. . . . Then we got a call from the RCMP, they were concerned,” said Wade Sutton, food and beverage operations director for the Kamloops Conference Centre.
“By noon the phones were ringing off the hook.”
Principals and vice-principals were calling too, saying they’d heard some questionable kids might be showing up.
“They had good intentions but I think it started to go sideways with the Facebook page and the internet. People take things their own direction,” Sutton said.
“I do believe it was meant to be a fundraiser. But it was starting to attract the wrong element.”
Sutton met with Sullivan and he reluctantly made the decision to cancel the event Thursday afternoon.
“Police said they were getting a bad feeling,” he said, adding the rumours were growing.
Even after it was cancelled, people were posting on the internet about meeting at another location instead.
Hughes was disappointed she and Sullivan weren’t told about Birk’s voice message. And now they have to refund those who paid $10 for a solstice dance that didn’t happen.
“We had $4,000 raised for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.”
Sullivan said the school had an obligation to notify parents, given there was a perception it was a sanctioned, supervised event.
“I think Mr. Birk did the right thing informing parents it wasn’t a school event, it wasn’t sanctioned by the school and there might be alcohol involved.”
“We didn’t cancel the dance, but we made sure parents knew.”
All involved agreed the girls had their hearts in the right place. Sutton said he’d like to work with them to organize another event.
“I said we’d get together to make it right down the road.”