Racing for the finish line
The Kiwanis Club annual fundraiser took first place in fun this past weekend, as hundreds of children took to Wood Middle School's track in a show of athleticism. The Kids Fun Run, one of the largest annual fundraisers for the Kiwanis Club, has been a Wilsonville staple for over a decade.
"The event started 14 years ago after we learned of some kids in the community that could not afford to participate in soccer," Kiwanis Club President Jay Puppo says. "Although both parents worked (and the) dad worked two jobs, according to their apartment manager, they just couldn't afford extras. Our club decided to create an event that would tell kids that they matter and would raise funds to pay for a variety of scholarships."
That one decision sparked a legacy that now spans across generations, as former participants of the event come back to serve as volunteers. Jack Gibson, 18, has fond memories of running in the event, and now helps to create a positive experience for the pre-K through eighth grade students that run in the race.
"Going from participant to volunteer has been a fun transition," Gibson, says. "Helping people get to where they need to be or find what they are looking for has shown how much goes into big events like the Kiwanis Fun Run. I was raised in an environment that was highly committed to volunteerism and staying involved, so staying involved for me was what I have grown up knowing to do. Also, working with Kiwanis is always a good time."
Puppo states that many volunteers come from similar backgrounds to Gibson.
"They tell me how the event impacted their lives and they love paying it forward to the next generation," Puppo says.
The volunteers are not the only ones who like to pay it forward, as the Kiwanis Club itself gives proceeds raised from the Fun Run to a number of charitable organizations, some that fund local scholarships.
"In the early years we donated a lot of money to sports scholarships," Puppo says. "We helped Wilsonville students travel too, for robotics competitions and music performances. We helped launch the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and continue as a sustaining partner in that program."
The Kids Fun Run sets itself apart from the typical race by focusing on its opening ceremony and parade, one showcasing local mascots from around the community, such as the Wilsonville Wildcat and State Farm Bear. New to the event this year was an inflatable waterslide and a later start time, part of a continued effort by the Kiwanis Club to best serve runners and their families.
For those who participate in the event, it is an opportunity to create memories while being physically active. Barb Shook, who was at the Kids Fun Run with her grandchildren, has made the event a priority in her life for the past five years.
"It's become a tradition," Shook says. "It's a wonderful community outreach program. And the girls get to see their grandmas from both sides of the family together at the event."
The Kiwanis Club strives to create an event that can be enjoyed by the whole family, spending months planning and prepping their volunteers for success.
"What I love most is helping people and creating a positive upbeat vibe," Gibson says. "The event requires a lot of hours to put together so it's important to make sure the event is as great as possible. Kiwanis and the other volunteers put a lot into the Fun Run, which is why it always is one of the best events of the year."
For Puppo, the impact of the event in children's lives makes all of the planning worthwhile.
"At Wilsonville Kiwanis we believe that every kid matters," Puppo says. "During the event our emcee and the crowd do a phenomenal job of building that message. It's amazing to have hundreds of parents and community members yelling and cheering as the kids cross the finish line. When you see the light in their eyes and the huge smiles, you know you've had an impact."