“No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank
As a new running season approaches, seven Chicagoland running organizations and nonprofits are currently epitomizing the merits of this quote—by serving as official charities for the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
Although most people only witness the results of charitable contributions, Chicago Athlete Magazine has decided to focus on the “behind the scenes” work of charities, as each organization prepares not only for the Marathon, but for the days and weeks preceding it as well.
Back on My Feet Chicago
As a national organization with a central focus on combatting homelessness—through running, community support, and employment and housing resources—Back on My Feet partners with a variety of races in each of the 12 cities it operates in. So, when the Back on My Feet Chicago Chapter launched in September 2010, it was only logical for it to partner with the Chicago Marathon.
Within a month of the partnership’s finalization, the Chicago Chapter was able to recruit 14 individuals to participate in the Marathon, resulting in over $19,000 in donations. Since then, the partnership has expanded considerably, with 73 participants raising more than $94,000 for Back on My Feet in 2016.
To prepare for the 2017 Chicago Marathon, Back on My Feet will now have a comprehensive recruitment plan and timeline, which includes working alongside Fleet Feet Sports to increase the exposure of its FundRacing program—a fundraising experience for entry into local races. By “FundRacing,” runners can receive gifts like running shorts and wind breakers, along with kits that include ideas on how to fundraise.
Due to earlier registration this year, recruitment for the Chicago Marathon began in October 2016, five months earlier than usual. In addition to distributing a monthly newsletter and offering one-on-one support to each participant, Back on My Feet will also recruit runners at a Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K Health & Fitness Expo booth.
“In the meantime, we will also have a cheer station at Mile 15 of the Chicago Marathon,” says Meredith Weber, senior development and marketing director, Back on My Feet Chicago. “During the Marathon, our volunteers—program members who are experiencing homelessness—will come out to cheer on all of our runners.”
Since its inception in 2008, Chicago Run—a nonprofit founded to fight childhood obesity through running programs—has worked closely with the Chicago Marathon office, particularly as the leading organization of the Mile 20 Aid Station located in Pilsen—with over 320 volunteers overseeing it.
In 2010, the organization became further involved by creating its own charity team, as volunteers and program teachers were interested in fundraising while they ran. Aside from participation in the Marathon, Chicago Run also hosts multiple One-Mile Fun Runs for 4,500 children and youth, representing over 40 Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In addition, Chicago Run youth will participate in races like the Race to Wrigley on April 23 and the Universal Sole Four Mile Classic on May 18.
“There is a natural fit between our organization and the larger running community,” says Alicia Gonzalez, executive director, Chicago Run. “The broader running community finds a natural connection to our mission, as they understand how running has changed their lives—and want to be able to provide that to the younger generations, especially those who have limited physical activity options in their own communities.”
With this in mind, the organization—in addition to marketing to charity-minded runners who will donate their time and money at the Chicago Marathon—is also offering the following four volunteer-run programs to CPS students this year:
- Chicago Runners (which instills running activities for 17,000 elementary children)
- Running Mates (an after-school program to prepare 250 middle school students for 5Ks)
- LACE UP! (a program for 20 high school students who were involved in Chicago Runners or Running Mates)
- Little Strides (games and activities for 700 pre-K children).
Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club
Dare2tri has been well invested in the Chicago Marathon for several years. After all, the Marathon has a well-established Athletes with Disabilities program, which is coordinated by the paratriathlon club’s executive director, Keri Serota. But it was never an official charity of the Marathon—until 2016.
Now the club recruits runners and wheelchair athletes for the Marathon by reaching out to athletes, volunteers and supporters. As a result, all of its Charity Team spots have been filled.
“Athletes who are already registered for the Marathon are still eligible to join Race2Raise—a charity program for those looking to race and raise funds—whether they want to participate in running, biking, swimming or triathlons,” states Ashley Schrader, marketing and public relations manager of Dare2tri.
By directly connecting able-bodied athletes to athletes with disabilities, the program creates a culture of inclusiveness and provides an opportunity for donors to have an impact on Dare2tri and the lives of the people it serves—through scholarships for races and events (such as the 2017 Lifetime Chicago Triathlon), and funding for adaptive equipment, practices, clinics and camps.
To further assist athletes throughout Marathon weekend, Dare2tri will also recruit roughly 75 volunteers as members of its Athletes with Disabilities escort team. It is also expanding its weekly training session from three to four times per week.
“These practices, in addition to our camps and clinics, will provide our athletes a multitude of opportunities to get in the best shape they can,” Schrader adds. “We want our runners to be fully prepared to exceed their goals, so we will do everything we can to support them.”
Girls on the Run-Chicago
In preparation for the 2017 running season, Girls on the Run-Chicago is officially partnering with the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle and the Chicago Marathon. In fact, the nonprofit has been involved with the Marathon—through a charity athlete team—for 15 years now.
“As part of our SoleMates charity athlete team, we also offer a ‘Choose Your Own’ event option, so we have had people completing everything from 5Ks to triathlons,” says Cathy Kruse, director of communications, Girls on the Run-Chicago. “Our Chicago Marathon team is our largest team, but we encourage people to participate in whichever event they feel most excited about.”
Immediately after the end of the 2016 Chicago Marathon, the nonprofit began to recruit its 2017 charity athlete team, using opportunities such as its long-standing partnership with the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) along with a booth at the Shamrock Shuffle Expo, to inform people about its team.
Once team members have been recruited, Girls on the Run-Chicago does everything it can to ensure its members are fully prepared for the Marathon—from fundraising tips and free training to team workshops and classes on topics ranging from nutrition to injury prevention.
“The support continues through race weekend with a team pasta party and an indoor team home-base at a local high school on Marathon race day—just blocks from the starting line,” Kruse continues. “We have trainers to stretch our runners out, breakfast and lunch, and lots of hugs when runners return!”
Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association
In 2009, the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) became an official charity of the Chicago Marathon. Four years later, development director Cherie Hrusovsky expanded the program by soliciting runners who wanted to not only participate in the Marathon, but also make a difference in the lives of individuals with physical and visual disabilities.
With this in mind, GLASA began to recruit runners immediately after the 2016 Chicago Marathon, and plans to volunteer at the 2017 Shamrock Shuffle Expo as another recruitment method.
Although GLASA does not offer training to Marathon runners directly through its own organization, it does utilize the experts at the CARA—and even pays any fees that are associated with CARA’s training offerings.
“And, if a Marathon runner is not from Chicagoland, GLASA also offers reimbursement for training that is equal to the costs of CARA membership and training,” says Hrusovsky.
Not to mention, GLASA is also initiating a new program in 2017, which encourages its running community to offer support through any Chicagoland race they wish to compete in, including the Shamrock Shuffle.
By joining Team GLASA (the organization’s running team), runners will not be required to pay for registration to GLASA’s 10th annual 5K Twilight Run, Walk and Roll—one of Chicagoland’s largest CARA certified 5Ks, serving competitive and recreational runners, alongside athletes with disabilities —which is scheduled for Sept. 9.
Run Domestic Violence Out of Town
To say the least, October is a very busy month for Run Domestic Violence Out of Town (RDVOT). Not only will the nonprofit engage the Chicago community, with regards to Domestic Violence Awareness month, which is recognized annually in October, it will also be actively involved with the Chicago Marathon—a resource for consciousness and fundraising for domestic violence victims—as an official charity.
“We also have a dedicated team of runners that we recruit each year,” states Bethany Gomillion Thompson, marathon campaign coordinator of RDVOT. “They can run the 5K, Half Marathon or Marathon to help us raise support, funds and awareness for domestic violence survivors and their children.”
In preparation for the Chicago Half Marathon/5K and the Chicago Marathon (each of which it supports), RDVOT began to recruit runners as soon as registration dates were announced; recruiting will continue throughout the coming months, including at the Shamrock Shuffle, where the nonprofit will promote its team.
To prepare its runners for Marathon weekend, the nonprofit also creates training schedules, offers training tips and plans in team newsletters, and hosts weekly team runs in which runners are educated on the impact of domestic violence—and the ways in which their hard work can save lives.
“We are also looking to provide self-care programs to our runners,” Gomillion Thompson explains. “These programs will encourage them to love and take care of their bodies as they train for the races.”
Special Olympics Chicago
As the founder of the inaugural Chicago Half Marathon 20 years ago, Susan Nicholl, executive director of Special Olympics Chicago, has developed relationships with multiple Chicagoland running groups and race management companies for over a quarter of a century.
So it was only natural for Special Olympics Chicago to pursue a partnership with the Chicago Marathon as an official charity.
“We truly believe in a message of #AthletesSupportingAthletes, as our athletes experience many of the same emotions as marathon runners,” says Nicholl. “They set goals, train, get injured and recover, experience highs and lows, and ultimately reach their goals and cross the finish line!”
Special Olympics Chicago recruits marathon participants all year long, while focusing on marketing that demonstrates the difference a runner’s support has on the year-round programs enjoyed by Special Olympics athletes.
“We treat members of our running team like the superstars they are,” Nicholl states. “It is important for us to acknowledge all they are managing, and we aim to reward them every step of the way.”
Special Olympics Chicago offers running team members a variety of benefits—from covering the cost of training programs, to hosting a Facebook group page, so that runners can socialize with each other before the race.
“In addition to providing race day parking for our top 10 fundraisers and two round trip tickets on United Airlines for our top fundraiser, we will also be raffling off an overnight stay at the Chicago Hilton for the night before the Marathon,” Nicholl adds. “We want our runners to experience all this wonderful race has to offer!”