Feature Story

Cisco Webex helps Covenant House host first virtual sleep out

by Sophia Lin

Employee in sleeping bag

Cisco employees virtually support homeless youth in a time of need.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect the community, event planners have had to make the hard decision of postponing or cancelling their activities. Some have made the decision to hold them virtually too.

That’s the case for Cisco employees Rachael Chambers and Nicole Henke. On their regular syncs with Covenant House leadership, they were disappointed to hear that the nonprofit would be canceling its Young Professionals Sleep Out due to public event restrictions that many states were enforcing. After hearing the disappointment in the Covenant House team’s voices, it was a no brainer for them to offer Cisco Webex technology to make sure that the event would still go on – virtually.

“We’ve seen how this event changes lives. It simply has to go on,” said Chambers.

See also: Skip the Occasion, live stream instead

With only a week away from the event, Rachael quickly reached out to Damon Martin, a Cisco collaboration regional manager and his partner, Patrick Stephens, a Cisco collaboration systems engineer manager, to create a Webex meeting event and show Covenant House staff the tool.

For 14 hours, for the first time ever, communities in New York, Houston, New Orleans and Los Angeles experienced the sleep out together on Webex and even streamed it to the Covenant House Facebook page to reach over 6,000 people.

The participants heard inspirational, hopeful messages from the likes of Covenant House President Kevin Ryan, celebrity actress Rachel Brosnahan from TV series The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, and youth from the shelters. Without the virtual event in place to bring the community together and have a more enriched experience, participants would have been left to watch informational YouTube videos by themselves at home.

During the broadcast, participants learned just how serious the COVID-19 outbreak is on homeless youth. Covenant House shared that 75% of young people at the Oakland shelter and 85% at the New Orleans shelter have lost their jobs. It was more important than ever for the community to come together and support the millions of young people who are faced with homelessness every day. They were able to raise $133K during the sleep out, the biggest fundraising day in Young Professionals history, to increase the total funds raised thus far to $843K.  

See also: Navigating the 'new normal' with virtual connectivity 

"The importance of how our friends at Cisco have stepped up again, especially during this critical time, can't be overstated," says Covenant House President Kevin Ryan. "We depend on events like the Young Professional Sleep Out for the funds to care for over 2,000 young people in shelters across 31 cities in six countries around the world. Right now our shelters are filling with young people with no place else to go, at the same time we have needed to set aside space for isolation areas for young people who are currently sick or symptomatic. 

Our counselors, our doctors and nurses in their health clinics, our housekeeping and kitchen staff are working 24/7 with young people who were already traumatized before the widespread pandemic. Despite this overload, we cannot and will not close. But we need help, we need funds, now more than ever. Now is the time. It is only through the support and partnerships with friends like Cisco that will get us through this crisis together, and we are so grateful."

After spending the whole night on the Webex stream with the participants, Stephens sees the potential that Webex has for other nonprofits after helping Covenant House set up their virtual event.

“We have a lot of [Cisco] employees involved in different charities and nonprofits. For them to use Webex to host virtual events and bring the community together during this time of need is a game changer.”

Covenant House hosts sleep outs year round to raise money and awareness. If you’d like to be involved or donate, click here.