The annual Clouds Choir at Mall of America in December is an unforgettable sight. Thousands of people of all ages fill every possible spot on all levels of the Rotunda. Amid the glittering Christmas trees and bright cloud lights above, voices ring with the uplifting notes of the song “Clouds,” written by local teenager Zach Sobiech, who died from osteosarcoma in 2013.
The sights and sounds are beautiful, and anyone who knows Zach’s story can feel the emotion behind the words.
“It speaks to people’s hearts because it’s so raw and real and open, but it’s not oppressive,” said Laura Sobiech, Zach’s mother. “It leaves people joyful. He’s openly talking about something that is very painful. Yet it always ends on a hopeful note, and that’s something that really resonates with people, from young children to grown men.”
The Power of Community
Laura Sobiech, who is also Community Outreach Coordinator for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, which manages the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund, knows the power behind community. At a tough time in her life, KS95 (which partners with CCRF for the annual KS95 for Kids Radiothon) came up with the idea for the Clouds Choir, and the team at Mall of America jumped on board to provide the venue and manage the logistics.
“We ran with it,” Sobiech said. “And that first year, we expected 500 to 1,000 people, and we ended up with over 5,000 people. That was really powerful, and it continues to grow. This year will be the five-year anniversary. People come from all over to participate, and many people have adopted it into their Christmas tradition.”
What MOA Brings
It’s events like this one that have convinced Sara Durhman she has one of the best jobs in the world. As Senior Community Relations Manager for MOA, Durhman coordinates more than 60 charitable events a year at the Mall. Each requires the input of numerous MOA teams. Events, marketing, social media, audio-visual, maintenance, security, and operations staff all work together to pool resources that a community organization may not have access to on its own.
“We help them market their event and tell their story in a unique way. We plan the flow of the event, we help organizations partner with tenants and sponsors to support their event, and we set it up and clean it up,” said Durhman. “And all of these services are donated 100 percent by Mall of America.”
On average, the Mall’s donations of money and services to community partners add up to about $25,000 per day.
Taking Care of People in Our Own Backyard
But why do it?
“Mall of America will only be as successful as our neighbors are,” Durhman said. “We want to be able to take care of people in our own backyard. We want to be that community hub for people to come and celebrate successes, tell stories, unite communities, and make change.”
Mall of America has supported veterans through the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program; it has opened the Rotunda for the annual Cansculpture® competition to conquer hunger; it has brought attention to causes like Lyme disease and autism; and it has helped promote giving and gratitude with its annual Thanksgiving Walk to End Hunger.
These are just a snapshot of the numerous organizations the Mall has partnered with over the years.
“We want to make sure our partners here in the community know we’re not just hosting the event. We want to invest in these causes and in our community,” Durhman said.
Giving from the Beginning
It’s a principle that was there from the Mall’s inception. In fact, before the Mall even opened to the public 25 years ago, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund held its local fundraising walk on the property and continues to do so every year. There are participants who were at that first walk who keep coming back year after year.
“We look at these organizations as part of our family, and they look at our property as home to them,” Durhman said. “It’s pretty remarkable, and it’s an honor for us as team members to share in people’s lives.”
Laura Sobiech experiences that sense of being part of the MOA family every year. And she’s grateful for the Mall’s ongoing support of the Clouds Choir. “They have gone above and beyond to accommodate it,” she says. “They’ve actively sought ways to keep this event fresh and make it exciting and meaningful for the people who come together. That speaks volumes about the people who run these events. They get it.”
Be sure to check the Mall of America’s events page and community page to learn about or join our community partners in action throughout the year. Want to get involved right away? Sign up to volunteer on Tuesday, August 8 at the World’s Largest Birthday Celebration: a partnership between Mall of America and Simon Says Give. MOA needs volunteers all day to assemble 2,500 birthdays in a box to support kids in need.