By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald
For 20 minutes every Thursday, Dawn Schweihofer runs with two dozen Cleveland Elementary students as part of an after-school running club.
As a fifth grade science and social studies teacher, Schweihofer makes sure these students run one mile, read one book and do one good deed once a week.
However, the real difference came when Schweihofer took part in the Jingle Bell Run on Dec. 6, 2014, in Port Huron with Amy Meeker-Taylor and Christine Shigley.
Schweihofer noticed two of her students were running in jeans because their families couldn’t buy buy jogging clothes.
“Both students were in my class, and they were wearing the exact same clothes they wore in class,” Schweihofer said. “Another girl in class wears the same shoes she’s had since third grade.”
The three have created the Starting Line Youth Running Fund to help children who want to run but cannot afford shoes, apparel or entry fees for local races.
“We wanted to find a way to move past those barriers that are holding them back,” Schweihofer said. “There are a lot of fees, so many don’t even enter.”
The fund’s main focus will be to work with elementary running clubs and their advisers, Shigley said.
“We’ll be there, whether it’s buying and donating apparel or making sure the running clubs have water and snacks,” Shigley said. “The bulk of what we are going to do is partner up with other racers and have them donate extra money to our fund and sponsor entries for kids.”
Most of the donations will help pay entry fees for local races. Schweihofer said most races require $20 to $25 to register a runner.
Schweihofer said the fund eventually will offer scholarships to pay for half of the students’ entry fees.
“We are hoping to maybe even cover all of it,” she said. “We will start locally with the highest need in the Port Huron Area School District.”
The fund was created Jan. 6, with the funds handled by the Community Foundation of St. Clair County.
Lynn Alexander, community foundation vice president, said the three organizers came to the organization in early December.
When the founders discovered how much paperwork and money went into creating their own charity, they realized they could do the same thing by creating a fund with the community foundation.
“It’s something that is common. It’s easier to go through us,” Alexander said. “From my perspective, I like it when individuals in the community work with us to fulfill a need.”
The two parties established a fund agreement that spelled out what the donations would be used for and allowed the foundation to process a grant on behalf of the running fund organizers.
Shigley said organizers have two events planned to help raise money for the fund.
On Feb. 12, Fuel Woodfire Grill at 213 Huron Ave., Port Huron,will have a dinner night with 10 percent of sales donated back to the fund.
The other is a “Girl’s Night Out” wine tasting event at Green Barn Winery in Smiths Creek from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 28. Money that comes in from the pre-ordered $40 tickets also will go back into the fund.
The fund had raised $2,080 as of Tuesday, Shigley said.
People can donate online at startinglineyouthrunningfund.weebly.com or through the community foundation.
Schweihofer said she and her colleagues are trying not to bite off more than they can chew in the early stages.
“I know that we want to be able to reach well beyond the Blue Water Area,” Schweihofer said. “We hope it can become a statewide thing, but we want to promote this area for now.”
The fund’s first effort will take place in conjunction with Marysville High School’s Pi Day 5K on March 14 — a 1.57-mile run coordinated by Shigley. Running club students who participate in the fun run won’t pay their entry fee and will be sponsored by donations collected by the running fund.
“We are going to take those donations and use them to sponsor entries into the 1.57-mile fun run for running club students from Cleveland Elementary and Woodrow Wilson Elementary,” Shigley said. “Depending on how much money we receive in donations, we’d like to be able to offer entries to other clubs in the area.”
The running club at Cleveland Elementary will be one of the first to benefit from the fund. Cleveland has the only Port Huron-based running club that begins running in January, Schweihofer said.
With snow on the ground, students ran four laps around the school’s perimeter to accumulate their weekly mile.
“It just means the entire running community has embraced these kids and realized there is more to them than just a statistic,” Schweihofer said. “They invest in more than what they are doing in that moment. It means they want to be part of their future success.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 27, 2015)