News and analysis
December 18, 2014

International Rescue Committee Snags New Year’s Eve Spotlight

Countdown Entertainment, LLC

On New Year’s Eve, the International Rescue Committee — a charity created in 1933 to aid refugees and those displaced by war, persecution, or natural disasters — will be getting some unprecedented exposure. It is the first charity to be officially designated as a partner of the iconic New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, which is watched by more than a billion people worldwide.

IRC representatives, including President David Miliband and four refugees who fled different countries, will be on hand at 11:59 p.m. on December 31 to push the button signaling the countdown to 2015 and the lowering of the Times Square Crystal Ball.

The arrangement was announced December 15 by the two organizers of the event, which has been held every year since 1904: the Times Square Alliance, a nonprofit that works to improve the area, and Countdown Entertainment, a company representing the owners of One Times Square.

"We collectively had the feeling we wanted to use this event as a force for good," says Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance. "We wanted to find some organization that would tie into a deeper, larger theme."

This year, he notes, has been one of the worst years since World War II for refugees, with more than 50 million people, mostly women and children, displaced. Because the IRC was created in New York at the request of Albert Einstein, a refugee himself, the charity seemed like a good fit.

"New York and America," Mr. Tompkins says, "have always been good at welcoming people from elsewhere."

The decisive factor in selecting the IRC came when Mr. Tompkins and his colleagues learned that refugees who come into the country without birth documentation are assigned January 1 as their date of birth. "We all got goose bumps," he says.

The IRC is building a social-media campaign around the Times Square celebration, titled "Here’s to Humanity." It will encourage people to post selfies on sites like Facebook and Twitter, along with their commitment to making 2015 a better year. Some of the images will be selected to appear on billboards around Times Square this month and on New Year’s Day. A link to the IRC’s website will also be posted on the Times Square Alliance’s site, where millions of people view a feed of the live event in Times Square.

"The potential for people to click through is huge," says Colleen Ryan, the IRC’s vice president of communications.

"New Year’s Eve is the perfect time to pause and think of the year ahead," she says. In the midst of terrible conflicts, she adds, "we see incredible hope, resilience, and fortitude that should be celebrated, and that is what this partnership is all about."

While none of the events and activities featuring the IRC will include a request for donations to the charity, both Mr. Tompkins and Jeff Straus, president of Countdown Entertainment, say that the visibility will probably lead to increased volunteerism and monetary support for the organization.

Mr. Straus says that through the events, the organizers are "raising awareness for the issue so people can get involved as they see fit."

Adds Mr. Tompkins: "Our hope is that this brings more attention to the IRC and that will get them money."

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.