Together with the Volunteers of America, I organized a 5k and 10k race, which was on June 13, 2015. Organizing this event was a lot more work than I had anticipated.
The race was a huge success. We had 240 runners!
As a first time race director and this being our inaugural event, I anticipated being in the negative funds wise, but we weren’t. The cost of organizing the race was approximately $5,000.00. The money raised from the race will support the first overnight homeless youth shelter in Utah. There will be many onsite services including education, mental health, and substance abuse for the youth.
We didn’t want to just bring a race to the community surrounding where the shelter will be built, but to bring the community together to support the youth in need. To do this we included a breakfast and raffle in our event. Every runner was given a raffle ticket and more tickets could be purchased. All the prizes were donations from various vendors within the city.
Of course, we had minor complications and last minute arrangements to scramble to get into place, but it was all worth it as I stood at the finish line watching runners come across knowing I had helped make it happen.
The homeless youth shelter is a project I am passionate about because I was a homeless youth in Utah from the ages of 13-16. I struggled with the same issues the youth who are out there now. Access to services will provide them with opportunities I never had.
When you are living on the streets it’s easy to fall into a hopeless cycle of self-destruction as you meet road block after road block trying to fit the pieces of your life back together into some semblance of a whole picture.
All of the finishers received a medal, which was a dog tag with the VOA symbol on one side and the name of the race and date on the other side.
I chose the dog tag as the medal because one of the first things you lose as a homeless youth is your identity, who you are. You become nameless and faceless in the eyes of others and yourself. For the youth on the streets, the most important rediscovery is that identity of self, and their singular importance in this world.
For a soldier, a dog tag is the last piece of home and their final identifier. It makes them different and an individual among their brothers who is next to them with the same haircut and same uniform moving in unison. The dog tag is a reminder that each of these kids is not nameless and is not faceless, but a person who has lost their self and their way.
I know we are all busy and not everyone can donate their time to those in need, but even just looking these kids in the face when you speak to them or acknowledging their presence as you pass them on the sidewalk identifies them as another human being and it only takes a second or two.