When I returned home from my first year in Nepal, I decided to train for a marathon. I needed people to train with, so I signed up with Team in Training, an organization that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. As part of the team, I had to raise about $2,000 for cancer research. I tried asking people for money; I tried going door-to-door and asking people for money; I tried thinking about asking people for money. I raised about $200.
It was fall and the 2004 elections were in full swing, taxing people’s interest in solicitations. One day while I was thinking about asking people for money, I had the idea that I could invite people down to a small green in the neighborhood to do a run or walk on Thanksgiving, and ask my neighbors to donate to cancer research as part of that event. I didn’t set an entry fee or advertise; I just started knocking on doors and saying we were having a neighborhood walk/run on Thanksgiving, and would you like to make a donation for cancer research? The next thing I knew, I’d raised $2000 and surpassed the goal. We did the first ever Race to the Rock in 2004 with basically no props or ceremony; everybody just got together, walked around the block, and donated funds to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It was nice to spend the morning out in the neighborhood, doing something charitable.
Well, I thought. Hmmmm. Innnnterrresting.
The next year I adapted the idea to start raising money for the projects I had begun in Nepal, and in the intervening decade, Race to the Rock has grown in to a run with fifty business sponsors and printed t-shirts, but where we still run a course inside the neighborhood and time people on cell phones. I still go door to door to fundraise for this event, but after thirteen years of doing that, people invite me in to ask how it’s all going and catch me up on what’s going on with their kids and jobs. We chat about current affairs and the state of the world. Honestly, in this day and age, how often does anyone walk house to house in their neighborhood, sitting in people’s kitchens and living rooms, talking?
Sujil with his Himalayan Heritage food truck
I also do the same thing with businesses in the area, and as a result, I now know a lot of the local business managers and owners in Bethesda by name. For example, there’s a restaurant nearby called Himalayan Heritage that’s run by a Nepali guy named Sujil. He always buys an ad in our race program, and this year he showed up at Race to the Rock with a food truck, and gave out free food. In the thirteenth year of this little neighborhood run – which has a $40 entrance fee, or $15/person for a whole family – we raised $22,000. About half of that came from local businesses, and the rest from people in the community. I find this whole relationship to be totally wonderful: at the beginning, I was working on a small non-incorporated project in the single village of Kaskikot. Now, my neighborhood and the surrounding Bethesda area have basically supported the growth of that project in to a public health program courting the National Health Care system of Nepal…by running around the block with race numbers written on mailing labels, crossing a finish line at a tree with posters that say PLYMOUTH ROCK stapled to it. And the best thing is that people are totally in to it. We tried using race bibs one year and everyone was like…what is this? You want me to do four safety pins? Are you serious? Give me my mailing label.
The Race to the Rock organizing committee consists of me, my parents, and some incredibly helpful neighbors who hand out fliers and get the word out. My dad puts up the tents and signs, an intricate feat with complex and demanding steps that derive from his doctoral studies in Engineering Physics. I have tried to short cut this process. Just don’t.
On the business side, my mom gets a bazillion donations from local businesses and organizes a silent auction that includes gift certificates, jewelry, tickets to all sorts of events, donated services, and chachkies of all kinds. The weekend prior to the race, we host a Mamma Lucia pizza party at my parents’ house and kids come over to make posters for all the business sponsors (thank you Williams Crew ergathon for formative experiences in college, where I got that idea!).
I thought I’d share some photos of this year’s Race to the Rock, which was one of our best yet. We had lots of great entries in the costume contest (you have to race in your costume) and the Useful Item contest (you have to race with an item that would have been useful on the Mayflower…past winning entries include deodorant, limes, and puzzle books). We had beautiful weather and there was a great vibe with lots of people in the community coming out and enjoying the morning together. We raised about a quarter of Jevaia Foundation’s annual budget too, which makes for a nice day.
And for us, what a special opportunity to see the best side of people: connected, optimistic, playful, and generous.
Happy Thanksgiving from Bethesda! Bwk bwk bwk bwk!