The Independent Health Foundation had First Night Buffalo down to a science.
For 15 years, about 5,000 Western New Yorkers made it a tradition to head downtown or to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center to ring in the new year with the ultimate drug- and alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration – featuring rides, music, animal shows and more family-friendly fun.
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But then Covid-19 hit, forcing executive director Carrie Meyer and her team at the Independent Health Foundation to reimagine its flagship event.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Pivoting to a virtual format in 2020-21, First Night was able to expand its audience to more than 24,000 viewers. In 2021-22, it increased again to more than 30,000 viewers, and the response from those participating was overwhelmingly positive.
More accessible, customizable and convenient than ever before, it was a no-brainer to make First Night Buffalo virtual for good.
“We learned during Covid that it was very difficult to try to shift and change to make things engaging virtually,” Meyer says, “but then you look at all the people watching and engaging in it, and we felt like we were able to branch out to all of Western New York instead of just Erie County and the City of Buffalo. So we’re excited about this new opportunity moving forward.”
First Night is the program that launched the Independent Health Foundation 30 years ago to enhance the health and wellness of Western New Yorkers. Rich Products and Western New York United Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse brought First Night to Buffalo in 1989, but Independent Health went from main sponsor to event coordinator in 1992. The New Year’s Eve event has since become one of several initiatives supported by the Independent Health Foundation, which hosts everything from youth soccer to free wellness screenings.
In partnership with John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, this year’s 34th annual event will feature a two-hour lineup of free virtual performances and activities that can be enjoyed from the comfort of home, all found at FirstNightBuffalo.org. This year’s performances were filmed at The Ralph C. Wilson Explore & More Children’s Museum and the Aquarium of Niagara, highlighting some of the great places for families to enjoy throughout the year.
There’s the convenience for families to celebrate any time of the day. There's also the flexibility to watch the entire First Night experience from start to finish or pick and choose from performances by animal expert Jeff Musial, DJ Milk, Checkers the Inventor and Squiggly Art Face Painting, among many others.
Families can take the experience to another level with a $20 party pack that can be purchased online or at Tops Friendly Markets. Items include party hats, balloons, glow-in-the-dark glasses, a disco ball lightbulb and admission for four to Zoo Lights 2022 at the Buffalo Zoo, plus much more – all in all an $80 value.
“The concept of First Night, it’s about setting healthy goals for the new year, and it's a great way for families to come together in a fun, safe, positive way,” Meyer says. “We want to provide a memorable experience for our Western New York community.”