On August 12th a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville, the town where I currently live. As this happened, myself along with others around the globe watched in horror as the violence escalated to the point where a driver ran through a crowd, killing 1 and injuring 19 others.
Upon returning to Charlottesville myself along with 8 other students, under the leadership of my good friend Andy Page, resolved ourselves to do something to bring our town, and our nation just a little closer together. While we were (and still are) a bunch of poor college students with somewhat limited resources, together we decided to dedicate our month long winter break towards doing something meaningful.
An idea worth pursuing
After a little brainstorming, we opted to host a series of runathons (running events where participants collect pledges based on the number of miles run) across the southern United States. These events would be held in Charlottesville VA, Washington DC, Charleston SC, Miami FL, and Austin TX and would raise money to support local social and racial justice causes.
With only three months until the break, there were many things that needed to be accomplished. Some of these tasks included:
- Finding locations in each city
- Filing for special event permits
- Marketing the event to participants
- Facilitating the pledging process
- Building the technological infrastructure for event sign-ups
- Designing and ordering the appropriate amount of t-shirts
- Gathering sponsorships
- Finding deserving local social/racial justice organizations
- Facilitating our teams travel to each of these locations
Preparing for race day
To create a series of events that could actually have some impact, our team needed to execute quickly and decisively. We started with our technology. As our team was full of people used to quickly prototyping ideas, building an online platform for event sign-ups was a relatively quick task. In order to be as lean as possible, we only purchased one domain (togetherwerun.org) for all five of our events.
Each of our individual runathon sites were then built using Splash, an event hosting platform that offers free site hosting and cheap payment processing. These sights were then connected to Anython, an online pledge service, through Zapier.
With the infrastructure in place, we then began searching for runners to join our events. I personally managed the marketing for our Charleston event. This involved setting up a group of student ambassadors at the College of Charleston, who shared our facebook event with locals and placed flyers (like the one below) around the city. While managing this team, I called a variety of running stores and organizations in the area to get our event listed on each of their public calendars. Similar marketing strategies were used for our other cities.
Furthermore, we reached out to a host of local businesses for sponsorships. We received financial donations from the McIntire School of Commerce, race bibs and raffle gifts from Road ID, race day snacks from Health Warrior Superfoods, and many other forms of assistance from other organizations (shown below).
Crossing the finish line
As we began hosting these events we ran into a multitude of problems ranging from having our site falsely blacklisted for sending spam in Finland, to having venues double book our race locations. Nonetheless, by adapting quickly and being flexible, each of our events succeeded. After many hours of hard work, we had 418 people participate in our events and were able to raise over $8,000 for charity organizations across the South.
While it can often feel as if you are not in a position to do something to help the community around you, whether due to lacking financial resources or any other reason, there is always some way to contribute. It is important for our society to remain engaged and to be committed to being creative in helping those around us.