Skip to main content

Meet Melissa Edwards, Our Latest Angels in Action Award Winner!

Extra Life periodically honors the people in our community who volunteer to go above and beyond For The Kids. The Angels in Action Award recognizes these exceptional individuals and we couldn’t be happier to give this one to Melissa Edwards! Melissa was nominated by her local hospital, Arkansas Children’s, for her work with the Unhandled Exceptions team and the fundraising she has been doing since 2012 — to the tune of over $14,000 USD raised.

We reached out to Melissa to talk about her efforts and how she became such a successful and integral part of Extra Life in Arkansas.

Jack Gardner: How did you get involved in Extra Life and assemble the Unhandled Exceptions team – and how did you come up with that unique team name?

Melissa Edwards: I first found out about Extra Life from a co-worker who regularly live streamed games for different charities to great success. He would stream for 24 hours straight, and you could just tell by watching him how much fun he was having while staying true to his passions. Interested in how it all worked, I reached out to him and he coached me to participate myself.

At the time, I had only been in the Fort Smith area for about a year, so I was eager to find people that shared my interests for gaming and giving back. I’m a project manager by trade, but an organizer by nature so it was an easy choice to reach out to my peers, friends, and co-workers and try to get people involved. We put our first team together in 2012 and were blown away by how generous and invested people were to support us, and through Extra Life, Arkansas Children’s in Little Rock. Not only did we have fun doing it, but we built unexpected bonds within our community doing something we all loved to do – play games and support a great cause.

After that first Game Day, we knew we had something special and wanted to capture our nerdy, game-loving relationships as co-workers and friends all working for the same technology company. At the time, many of us were software developers – writing code and designing systems from the ground up. In software development, an “unhandled exception” is something unexpected that you encounter when you run a program – good, bad, funny, or otherwise.

One of our original team members suggested it as a bit of a joke, and “Unhandled Exceptions” just stuck. It embraces the unique perspectives our team has to offer while having an “unexpected” positive impact through participating in Extra Life. The rest is history, and Unhandled Exceptions is heading into its seventh straight year of Extra Life! If we meet our goals this year, we’ll have raised over $20,000 for Extra Life.

JG: You have been a part of Extra Life since 2012. How have you learned and evolved with your fundraising since you started?

ME: I’ve evolved my tactics to utilize multiple forms of communication – social media platforms are great. I will do a few 2-3 minute videos with updates, challenges, upcoming events related to Extra Life throughout the year. Those tend to work well. The integration with Twitter and Facebook Fundraisers has been so helpful over the past two years.

As a team captain, I’ve really tried to encourage my team members to put themselves out there more. For me to ask them to do that means I had to be willing to do it myself. Now I issue “Captain’s Challenges” to them early into the year to try and get them thinking towards Game Day. It could be simple like “Whoever gets $20 donated by next Thursday gets $5 from me” or “Share your Extra Life fundraiser on social media, tag me, and I’ll chip in towards your goal.” So not only am I getting the word out about Extra Life and my team’s goals, but I’m pushing them to do the same.

In previous years, I’d set up a lunch share at work to invite people to learn about Extra Life and recruit new team members. Because of the pandemic, our company is mostly working from home so there’s been less word of mouth. It’s made the virtual outreach strategies even more important. To keep our team connected, we have a Discord server where we chat and share information – we’ve even hosted a few team lunches just to stay in touch.

In the last month of fundraising, I offer a “local incentive” where I’ll make a from-scratch homemade dessert of their choosing if they donate $100 or more. I’ve made a reputation as “queen of cheesecakes” from this, and it’s one of my biggest fundraiser strategies in years past. I enjoy baking, so this is an easy way for me to do something else I love while making other people happy and ultimately raising funds for Arkansas Children’s.

JG: What keeps you coming back to Extra Life year after year?

ME: Honestly, I love bringing people together and having fun. Gaming is just one of the ways I get to do that, and I enjoy seeing our community grow its Extra Life awareness every year. It’s hard to talk about Arkansas Children’s without knowing someone who directly or indirectly has been impacted by the phenomenal work they do. I have several close friends whose children were treated, or who as kids themselves, spent time at ACH.

Playing games is great, but seeing people light up when they know they’re doing it for a good cause that’s close to their hearts? That’s better.

JG: Can you tell us about the best Dungeons & Dragons adventure that happened at the table or on-stream while raising money for Extra Life?

ME: Last year was our biggest coordinated D&D stream we’ve ever done, and it was awesome. We streamed for 12-hours total, with three of us rotating through as DM for a 3-4 hour session (small breaks included!). We selected adventures from the recently-released Uncaged Anthology – each player used the same character during the 12-hour stream but advanced to a higher level between individual adventures. When I wasn’t DMing, I was playing as a Glamour Bard aptly named “Saylor Twift”. Her inspirations included reimagined lyrics framed to fit D&D and a bright, pop-star personality bound to draw an audience. I even had a bright pink shirt printed up that I wore during the stream – “Saylor Twift: Bard Reputation Tour”.

We were also lucky to have several things donated as giveaway prizes for those donating to our goal:

  • Local graphic design company, Jeromy Price Design Co., donated their time and skills to provide us with high-quality digital branding logos that we included on our streams, fundraising pages, and even team t-shirts.
  • Ashley Warren, the curator for the Uncaged Anthology series that we played adventures from, heard about our fundraiser via our Twitter shares and reached out to donate a hardback copy of the latest Uncaged book. She even let the authors of the adventures we selected know that we were playing them for Extra Life, and a few reached out expressing their excitement to see their work shared.
  • Last but not least, local company Dryad Gaming Co. donated two hand-made limited run dice chambers as our two grand prizes – straight from their recent Kickstarter campaign.

Donors who contributed over a certain amount were entered into the drawing. We drew the winners live at the end of our stream and had prizes distributed directly to those winners. We received great feedback about the quality of the gifted donations and were blown away by our donors’ generosity.

One of the greatest moments during the stream was when we had a viewer from Canada who had found our stream through Twitch’s #ExtraLife tag. This mystery viewer donated to our team goal to “buy” our players an advantage during the adventure, with the DM’s blessing. That advantage ended up saving our party at a critical moment during table play and we were so excited about that because of someone donating to Extra Life a thousand miles away.

JG: Has the pandemic made your Extra Life efforts more difficult this year?

ME: I don’t think anyone expected 2020 to be how it’s been so far, and I’d be lying to say if it hasn’t influenced my Extra Life efforts. All the craziness over the year has made me appreciate even more how good people still try to do good work even when faced with challenges they’ve never seen. I’ve been consciously balancing how I’m preparing for Extra Life with making sure to prioritize my mental health and balance at the same time. I’m a planner by nature, and sometimes those plans can stretch you too thin if you let them. If anything, the pandemic has pushed me to be more creative while staying connected in ways I hadn’t had to before.

I’ve been looking forward to Game Day for months now. It’s been a bright spot in the sometimes-cloudy horizon of 2020. It’s a time when things will feel closer to “normal” for those 24 hours, and I’ll come out of it feeling better about the world – even if just for a bit. I can’t ask for more than those feelings right now. 

JG: Arkansas Children’s has been able to help a lot of people because of you and your team. If someone sees your story and wants to do the same, what’s your advice on how they might be able to follow your example?

ME: Don’t be afraid to get involved! Sometimes the idea of playing games and live streaming or sharing on social media can be intimidating. I like to remind people that Extra Life can be played from anywhere, with anyone, in any format, and any game that you love. Start where you feel most comfortable and work your way into it – you’ll be amazed at what even a little outreach or information share can do for your fundraising and your motivation to raise funds for this excellent cause.

Check your local gaming stores for ideas on how you could involve other gamers in your community to join forces. Reach out to your friends, family, and co-workers that you know enjoy games. Chances are they’re just like you, looking for a way to make a positive impact while having fun, and they just don’t know what the possibilities are. You could be the person to open that door for them and start a chain reaction of awesome outcomes.

Last and definitely not least, just embrace what you love. One of the things I love best about gaming is that you get to be whoever you want to be – escape into a fantastical realm, explore the universe with no limits, or save the world from certain doom. Gamers love gaming because of how it makes them feel – they’re goal-oriented problem solvers who live for the win. That attitude lines up perfectly with Extra Life!

JG: What’s something you wish you could tell everyone about Extra Life?   

ME: You’ll never regret doing this. I’ve made so many friendships and connections with people I never knew played games because of Extra Life. This is something I started doing because it sounded fun. It’s something I keep doing because of the people I’ve met. It’s something I share because the world could always benefit from gamers putting their skills to good use for great reasons.

Thank you so much for all of the work Melissa, Extra Life wouldn’t be the same without you or the others who make helping their local children’s hospitals a major priority. Your contributions are invaluable and we hope this award helps remind you of what you have done for years to come. You can support Melissa’s fundraising efforts by visiting her Extra Life fundraising page and following her on Twitch.

Don’t forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!