Just finish. I repeated those words to myself in the anxious week before my Grand Teton Half Marathon. But when that race started one week ago, I felt energized by the charisma of fellow racers and entranced by the Tetons embracing our journey. My one goal quickly became three: I wasn’t going to walk, I was going to keep my back straight, and yes, finish. That’s exactly what happened after two hours and eighteen minutes of running for a park I’d just fallen in love with.
The sense of community was overwhelming as hundreds of runners became one force to reach the finish. Although I was my own single person and no one but me could finish my race, I was pushed by all those kindred spirits. Yes, I definitely needed that push as I nervously questioned my ability moments before the start. Between hikes in the Rockies and illustrating posters, this quest made it difficult to keep a disciplined training program, but I’d committed to making a small change and knew there was no backing out.
Make a Small Change for a Big Cause
Several weeks before I was contacted by environmental advocate Erin Fitzgerald of Adventures in Thumbholes who shared the initiative Small Change with me. This awesome campaign is a way for runners to give back by making a small donation to a grassroots organization in the local community where they race. Sounds pretty simple, right? At first glance, $20 to a non-profit can feel like a drop in the bucket, you might even think what’s the point? $20 is a mere night of pizza and maybe one drink. But imagine if the 30,000+ runners of the Boston Marathon gave up that one pizza night for a local group starving for funds.
That’s a whopping $600,000!
Trust me, $600,000 can go a lonnnnng way in the non-profit world. I know this quite well after writing grant proposals during a year of AmeriCorps service. Sometimes we asked for just $900 in supplies for environmental clean-up projects that benefited thousands of people and species. As the Small Change website states:
Nonprofits are the champions of our communities—often the unsung heroes that work tirelessly to keep our communities thriving and healthy, while providing many important services and resources.
When I heard about Small Change, I knew it would work perfectly for the Grand Teton race I’d already signed up for. After some research I decided to donate to the park’s charity, Grand Teton National Park Foundation and the Jenny Lake campaign. I imagined if all my fellow runners did the same thing we would make a pretty big collective impact. If there’s one thing many folks have in common, it’s a desire to run. Let that desire support programs in the parks we love and suddenly a single small change isn’t so small anymore.
Beyond the Money
This talk of dollar signs and donations shouldn’t distract from the true purpose of Small Change. You’re not just giving away money, you’re helping society grow in a positive way. Runners often travel to races for their own benefit, or to benefit a run already associated with a charity, and we shouldn’t forget that we affect the community we visit. For a few hours we become part of a new place where our actions can leave a lasting legacy.
Why not let our impact be one of simple generosity?
As I’ve talked about before, traveling has introduced us to great kindness, and as travelers we can be ambassadors of positive change. Every encounter with a place or person is an opportunity to share an idea or contribute in some way. That’s the human story, it’s how civilization has grown for ages. Your “drop-in-a-bucket” donation is a promise to help all people and species thrive in our society.
Sure, you might never see the outcome of that $20, but the community will. One day, someone will pay it forward and your own community will benefit. We may be lone runners in a race, but it’s the morale of the group that gets us to the finish. Communities work in the same way.
Making a Small Change is Easy
Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by all the bad news out there and wonder, how can I make a difference? If that question keeps you from trying anything, then we’re all doomed.
But if you can lace up your running shoes and run or walk a 5k, then you’re steps away from making a difference. Along the way you can share your Small Change story here and read other stories while inspiring your peers to do the same. Imagine if we all make a small contribution – it’s easy – and suddenly you’ve helped an organization give a Thanksgiving meal, or buy books for children, or fund treatments for the sick and weary. Those drops are the ripples of hope for stronger communities. And we can all benefit from healthy communities.
Let Small Change motivate you to sign up for a race, or add it to the story of your upcoming race.
Get to know the community where you’re running, even if it’s your own, and become an ambassador of change!