I did a thing the other day. A thing that I have been dreaming about since the conception of Happy Trails Racing. It's a thing that took many forms. But at its core, it continued to reflect the connection that I had so desperately been seeking.
I have always been making attempts to give back whenever I feel I have the means to adequately do so. In all capacities, I try to share authentically with those who need the support. I have many shortcomings. There are endless avenues that have gone unfulfilled. I have a lot to learn on how to help. I have yet to master the subtle differences of quality versus quantity and how both of those exhibit advantages and disadvantages in each scenario. At times, there is way to support everyone in need. Other times, when you can only help one, the impact may be greater.
Originally, I created "A Running Start Initiative" to be a charitable foundation. The plan was that we would receive monetary donations (from various companies and donors) to support at-risk groups who had been utilizing running as a method of coping, healing, and rejuvenation. Through the use of the donated funds I had planned to receive, I thought I would be able to afford to new gear to offer these groups. Along with provided training plans, we would develop our races to support these runners so they would be able to participate for free.
Although I had a background in event planning, non-profit programming, and financial subsidies, I did not have a complete sense of all that would be involved in establishing a "charity that accepts money". To say there were some barriers to overcome in my plan is an understatement. I studied at great length to understand what I needed to do to be successful in creating and maintaining this program. The truth is, I was out of my element. We did not have the human resource power or established accreditation to make it happen.
During all the paperwork and planning, I had reached out pre-emptively to a few companies that I had planned to work with to purchase their stock items at cost. I received positive support for this endeavour, but I also had people that were interested in giving me gear they had lying around that was going un-used. The offer to donate directly was the change that the program required. I had initially thought that there may not be enough donations to support those who needed it - hence the original need to raise money to supplement. In the end, I re-launched the program as a donation collection rather than a fundraising charity in the hopes that we would get a few items to still help a runner or two.
The generosity was astounding. Hundreds and hundreds of gently used, new, and over-stock gear came flooding in. I received brand new items such as hydrations packs, socks, shorts, jackets, tops, tights, and running shoes. The used gear we received was lovingly prepped for the next runner - complete with a story of adventure that was ingrained in the fibers. At each event, we would receive bags and boxes stock-full of philanthropy from our racers. I was also contacted by local companies such as MEC Burlington, the Running Room (Hamilton and St. Catharines), and Salomon-Arc'Teryx Niagara who had set up boxes in their store or cleared out their overstock which further extended the reach of this program.
On January 28th, 2019, the donations that were all sorted and packed with the help of a few key friends, were loaded into our Happy Trails Van. I drove to the Covenant House to meet with their Fitness Program Coordinator, who was coaching many homeless youth who had wanted to learn run - and maybe one day participate in a race. The staff at the facility were overwhelmed by the running gear and are ecstatic at the growth that their own program can support now that they have these items in stock. I was given a tour and met key individuals from all departments who are working tirelessly to help give these kids the support and tools to make healthy transitions from the streets.
When some of you donated your previously well-loved items to us, you downplayed your efforts. Responses like, "it was nothing" and "I can't use it anyway" wrongfully belittled the amazing thing that you did. By taking the time to go through your closets and give your gear a second chance, you've given me the second chance to re-build this program. But, most importantly, you've given a second chance to the youth who are looking for a way out. They now are supported as they run towards a new start.
Happy Trails -