By Brett Hetherington*
Every summer for 14 years, Flat Rock Homes, Care Center, and Community Services has hosted a fundraising event known as the Race at the Rock. Individuals, families, teams and congregations have traveled to the site of the East Ohio Conference Health & Welfare agency in the Firelands District to participate in a 5K run, one-mile walk, or various children’s events, to learn more about the agency’s ministries, and to raise funds to help pay Flat Rock’s operating expenses for the year. The highlight of the day for many is the Inspirational Race, which features Flat Rock Care Center residents and individuals from the local community who are differently abled.
“Then 2020 came, and we are under orders to only have essential staff in the building. An in-person race just was not practical this year,” shared Flat Rock Home President and CEO Karen Kilgo.
When the State of Ohio-mandated shelter-in-place orders went into effect earlier in the year, Flat Rock leadership was hopeful that the race could be held later in the summer. But as the year wore on, that became less and less of a possibility and the team was faced with the very real prospect of needing to cancel the event.
“Folks were still passionate to participate. It became a virtual race, and by holding the race wherever people are it provides an opportunity for people who could never travel to Flat Rock to participate,” said Kilgo. “This creates opportunities for people who could never participate before to get involved and get their friends involved. I am really excited for this. I have friends in another state who are planning on participating who would not be able to if we were holding an in-person race!”
She then shared an important aspect of the event’s history, the change in name last year to the Dick Parks Memorial Race at the Rock. “Dick was a long-serving member on the Flat Rock board and the Race at the Rock was his favorite event.”
Parks and his wife were active members of Lakewood United Methodist Church in the North Coast District before he passed away. Kilgo had been impressed by his passion for, and his commitment to, the annual race. She noted that he took the time to send personal messages, instead of mass e-mails, to people who sponsored his efforts in the race.
In 2019 Lakewood UMC leaders provided an opportunity for a remote race in which folks could walk around the block after a church service in memory of Dick and raise money for Flat Rock. Kilgo shared that participants in this year’s Race at the Rock can still sponsor Parks in the race with memorial sponsorships, even though he is no longer here.
“It was only natural to honor the legacy of Dick when folks support Flat Rock and he is smiling on us from heaven,” she said. Those sponsorships take the form of individuals, teams, and churches collecting donations, pledges and even hosting fundraisers. The Race at the Rock typically raises around 15% of Flat Rock’s annual donated funding, and in a year like 2020 those are funds that are sorely needed.
“We still have all the same needs we have every other year, and this year with COVID we have increased expenses with PPE (personal protective equipment) purchases, revenue hits from some programs we cannot run, and we have had to bring in additional staff to disinfect the facilities, hiring extra nurses to screen our regular staff. We still need supporters and sponsors, and we still have to do everything we always do,” said Kilgo.
Among the myriad challenges of transitioning an on-site race into a virtual one was deciding how to include the Inspirational Race. “Normally people from our care center, the community, and the services homes we staff do a lap around the building and friends and family are there to cheer them on,” said Margaret Larkin-Downing, a Flat Rock Homes, Care Center, and Community Services marketing assistant.
After working through the logistical challenges of how to host such an event and adhere to State-mandated COVID-19 restrictions, the team was able to settle on a plan. This year, participants will divide up by houses and walk around the building in small groups.
“I really do not like that we won’t be able to have people there cheering them on as they cross the finish line, but we will try to cover it with pictures and video,” said Larkin-Downing.
For those who watch and are inspired by the Inspirational Race it provides an opportunity to witness the ministries of Flat Rock in a very real and tangible way. It allows people to see the love and the care that the staff of Flat Rock has for its residents, and the joy that those residents are able to experience because they are loved.
For participants of the Inspirational Race, it’s an opportunity to be seen.
“One man from the community is in a motorized wheelchair and he loves to go real fast in his chair, and he gets a lot of joy from crossing the finish line first. I have only seen him out of his chair and taking steps three times, and this race was one of them, taking steps with help from some teammates to cross the finish line,” shared Kilgo. “It’s great fun for the participants and great fun for their parents.”
Larkin-Downing shared her own story. “We had an individual in a wheelchair one year who was determined to finish the race under his own power, and it was really incredible to see that. I think that’s the point of the race to see, for people who don’t get to see these moments every day, there’s incredible moments to see while at the Inspirational Race. I think it hypes everyone up to walk or run as fast as they can in their own race, seeing these people in the Inspirational Race overcome their own challenges. As soon as the race is over, they are asking when the race is happening again. It is huge for them.”
This year Flat Rock leadership is embracing the virtual nature of the Dick Parks Memorial Race at the Rock. “This is an opportunity for us to expand and get more people to participate and be able to get to know more about Flat Rock,” said Kilgo, adding that the new format will likely be included in future years because it will allow more people to participate.
“We encouraged people to choose their own distance. Run, walk, hop, crawl, whatever! Take a selfie of yourself doing that, tag and post it to let us know. As long as you are doing something to help Flat Rock, we are happy,” said Kilgo.
You can follow this year’s event on social media by searching for the hashtag #RaceAtTheRock.
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.