HDRF Raises $200,000 in First-Ever, National Virtual Race of Hope

Charity –founded by Audrey Gruss, is Determined to Create Community in Midst of Pandemic

This summer the Hope for Depression Research Foundation faced a tough choice: either cancel its marquee summer event in Southampton, the 5K Race of Hope, or move the race to a virtual format due to covid restrictions.

The virtual choice felt less than ideal, because the whole point of the race is to bring people together in community.

Eric Dane from Grey’s Anatomy served as an Ambassador of HOPE

So HDRF invented a bold new concept:  a virtual race paired with a live broadcast show to allow participants to see each other and feel the fun of the starting line. On Sunday, August 2, the charity produced a live show, streamed online, that brought together some 800 participants across the country in real time as part of its Virtual Race of Hope to Defeat Depression, Summer 2020. The event raised $200,000 for advanced depression research, and Grey’s Anatomy star Eric Dane participated in the broadcast as a Race Ambassador.


“We were amazed by the response not only from our loyal Southampton community, but from runners and walkers across the nation,” said HDRF Founder and Chair Audrey Gruss, who was a Co-Grand Marshal of the Race along with HDRF Advisory Board members and Hamptons residents Arthur Dunnam and Jamee Gregory. “When we decided to take the race virtual, we vowed not to lose the shared experience and sense of community that is so healthy and that we all crave.”

Added Arthur Dunnam: “We were able to touch base with so many people from all over who checked in to the live broadcast. Adversity sometimes has a silver lining. This virtual year we got to do it a little differently, which is very cool.”

Participant Kate Powell of Cromwell, CT, said after the race: “Because of the virtual starting line, I felt like I was part of a group, even if we weren’t physically together. Thanks to everyone for such a great experience.”

Creating the Starting Line Experience Virtually

The Race of Hope to Defeat Depression is a 5K Walk/Run traditionally held in Southampton, NY in August and draws hundreds of participants each year since its launch in 2015. This year, participants were invited to complete the race in two ways: Participants were invited to run or walk the race at any time from wherever they were in the country and send in selfie photos or videos to be played during the live broadcast on August 2.   They also received great gear in the mail to wear for their races.  Registered participants could also elect to complete the race in any chosen location at the designated start time of 8:30 am EDT on Sunday, August 2. For example, Natasha Daniels-Jefferies walked the traditional 5K course in Southampton around Lake Agawam with her family in honor of her late son, Dakari, who several years ago died by suicide after a long struggle with depression.

For a half hour before the 8:30 AM starting gun, the broadcast posted written comments from participants as they logged in to share their locations and reasons for joining the event. Many were up at the crack of dawn to join from different time zones such as California.

Celebrity race ambassador Eric Dane, star of Grey’s Anatomy, cheered runners in a signature Race of Hope windbreaker from Los Angeles before taking off on the 5k race himself. Days before the race, Eric took to Instagram to show his support for the race and to discuss the importance of HDRF’s advanced depression research.

At a time of great strain to world mental health, Jamee Gregory stated: “The Hope for Depression Research Foundation serves as a beacon of light — discovering the nation’s finest neuroscientists and funding their combined research. Depression touches all of our families and causes grave pain. Today we gather together to race for a cure. We can fight this dreaded disease. Thank you all for being here.”

Audrey Gruss said: “Did you know that depression is the leading reason for disability worldwide and it affects over 300 million people? And yet, new treatments are sorely needed, but there is hope on the horizon. HDRF has for years led the fight against depression and we brought together the most intelligent minds in neuroscience all working toward one mission — to end depression.”

Several HDRF’s Depression Task Force members made appearances during the broadcast including: Dr. Elisabeth Binder (Max Planck Institute, Munich), Dr. Jonathan Javitch (Columbia University, New York City), Dr. René Hen (Columbia University) and  Dr. Michael Meaney (Singapore Institute, Singapore) The Depression Task Force is a collaboration of nine leading scientists, at the frontiers of brain science, from different research institutions across the globe. To accelerate breakthrough research, they share ongoing results, in real-time, at the HDRF Data Center.

The online race broadcast also included a rendition of the national anthem sung by race participants Arianne Lott of Dallas, TX and Helena Winston of Wilmington, NC.  The broadcast also thanked event sponsors Findlay Galleries, Impala Asset Management, Livingston Builders Incorporated, and Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.

Race of Hope Drive-By Luncheon

In the two-week run-up to the event, HDRF hosted its first-ever Race of Hope Drive-by Lunch on July 16 in Southampton to kick off the Race and thank top donors.  Race Co-Grand Marshals Arthur Dunnam, Jamee Gregory and Audrey Gruss waved to guests as they lined up in their cars on Pond Lane in front of the Southampton Cultural Center, decorated with HDRF’s HOPE yellow balloons (recyclable and environmentally friendly). Each guest received a straw basket tied with yellow ribbon and filled with a lunch of sliced chicken, two side salads, cheese platter, cookies and brownies and fresh cherries and peaches. The baskets were generously provided by Race sponsor Eli Zabar. Giant “Stand with Me” banners of past HDRF celebrity honorees, with quotes about overcoming depression, were lined up to remind guests that depression advocacy is critical for reducing stigma and sparking life-saving conversations.

Race of Hope Virtual – Summer 2020 Committee Members include: Lisa M. AeryJames R. Borynack & Adolfo ZaraleguiGeoffrey BradfieldJanna BullockAmanda & Jay ChambersArthur Roy DunnamMajorie & Alexander P. FederbushRoger & Bambi FelberbaumBarbara Alan GlattLucia Hwong GordonJamee & Peter GregoryCarole GuestMrs. John (Susan) GutfreundCandy HammKim HeirstonYaz HernandezTania HigginsNatasha Jeffries, Mariana Zoullas KaufmanThe Hon. Earle I Mack & Carol MackAnn & Cameron MacRaeMarigay McKee Bill FordSusan & Joe MeyerIsabella & Joseph Paul (J.Paul) Meyer Jr.Muffy & Donald MillerMrs. Lucia N. MussoAnne S. NordemanJenny & John PaulsonHilary Geary RossThomas C. QuickScott SnyderLis WatermanLynne WheatClelia & Tom ZachariasRichard Ziegelasch, and Silvia Zoullas.

Audrey Gruss founded HDRF in April 2006 in memory of her mother Hope, who struggled with clinical depression. Today, HDRF is the leading nonprofit organization focused solely on depression research. Over 300 million people annually struggle with depression globally, but despite its prevalence, depression is still misunderstood, underfunded and under-researched. The mission of the HDRF is to fund cutting-edge neuroscience research into the origins, medical diagnosis, new treatments, and prevention of depression and its related mood disorders, including bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and suicide. To date, HDRF has provided more than $36-million through over 125 grants for accelerated breakthrough depression research that promises to lead to new and better medications and treatments.

Christine Schott Ledes
Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *