It looks like your typical gala. Heavy hors d’oeuvres and wine. A DJ and prizes. A dress code requesting “cocktail fabulous.”

But none of that is what compelled Donna Farrow to fly in from Ontario for the inaugural Thriviesta: A Gala for the Soul to be held Thursday in Minneapolis.

“I’ve been to so many galas,” said Farrow, who volunteers with United Way in Canada. “Same old, same old. This one will be wonderful. It’s going to touch everybody, and touch everybody differently.”

That’s because the goal of the gala is to address the “loneliness epidemic” that’s chipping away at the emotional health of children, millennials, middle-aged men, seniors and, really, all of us.

A recent survey by health insurer Cigna showed that “most Americans are considered lonely.” Young adults born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s had among the highest loneliness scores.

“People are feeling disconnected, isolated and alienated,” said Thriviesta creator Jennifer Ally Kern, a St. Louis Park-based executive coach and leadership consultant. “I can’t tell you how much I hear people say they are lonely.”

Kern will address that sad reality using a strategy not typically seen at high-end galas: interactive games, led by professional coaches and trainers, who will bring people together “in a way that is fun and playful.”

One game uses eye contact and mirrored body movements. Another, called “Crack Your Code,” explores different ways that people like to connect. “Some people are huggers,” Kern said. “Other people like to hand you their business card, or shake your hand. This exercise teaches participants about different styles of communicating to diminish defensiveness.”

All the games are optional, she noted, but will be run in a “carnivalesque” atmosphere where people can let down their guard if they feel like it. There will be prizes given, but they’re experiences — painting, cooking and dance classes, a body movement session, a kayaking tour — instead of things. “We all have enough stuff,” Kern said. “These are the kinds of things that help us get connected to ourselves, but they’re also more fun.”

Proceeds will support Girls Are Powerful (, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit dedicated to building healthy self-esteem in girls ages 7 to 15. Representatives from the group will have a booth tapping into participants’ superpowers. “This is really redefining the concept of a benefit,” Kern said.

The idea for Thriviesta ( began percolating after Kern attended a networking conference in February. Instead of the promised “connecting and interacting,” Kern milled about mostly solo, then sat theater-style “in a huge room of 500 to 700 people with a speaker. No interaction was facilitated, no one was guiding us to meet so-and-so.”

She left determined to design a gathering she’d like to attend to feel genuine connections. She envisions this as the first of many connective events, perhaps even taking something into a park setting to build bonds among children with differing physical abilities.

Parenting coach Samantha Moe of St. Paul will facilitate a booth that taps into “secret desires. Most people, when they want more in life, first think Ferrari, a new house, tangible things. This game is designed to go deeper than stuff, by exploring, ‘What is next for you that would bring more joy into your life?’

“We’re so conditioned to be a performer, like on Facebook,” Moe said. “That’s why we’re lonely. We have the opportunity to get brave and say, ‘Who am I, really?’ ”

Cassia Collins, 20, is a student intern for Thriviesta. She’s hopeful that people her age will show up.

“I really feel that technology and social media has connected us in some ways, but also distanced us,” said Collins, an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota School of Design. “Especially people my age and younger — we all laugh at the same funny video or see something sad on the news, but then we can all be so distant. At social gatherings and family dinners, everybody is on their phone and not talking to each other.”

She calls Kern “so bold” for putting her energy into this unique event. “I hope people walk away having met other people through this shared experience,” Collins said. “Also, I hope they just have fun and want to be involved the next time this happens.”