| Debbie Gardner
SPRINGFIELD – The coronavirus pandemic may have sidelined most fundraisers, but it didn’t stop students, staff, friends and alumni of Pope Francis Preparatory School from finding a way to support the Catholic high school and its families.
On June 20 and 21, a total of 183 runners - and 25 generous sponsors - came together to raise $10,135 for tuition assistance in the school’s first-ever virtual road race, the Cardinal 5K Challenge. The runners, who paid $30 to participate in the virtual race, chose the day to run and their own 5K route, submitting their times online as they completed the “course.” Sponsors paid $150 to have their company names emblazoned on the race-day T-shirt, mailed to all runners who registered by June 8.
“We had a great two-day fundraiser,” Daniel Fenton, director of Development for Pope Francis told Reminder Publishing. “All that money is designated as financial aid, to give families that may have been affected by the pandemic” a one-time extra boost in their tuition assistance. He said the school felt it was important to be able to help students finish - or start - their education at Pope Francis, and were planning to up the assistance as much as possible for students and families in need.
“We hope the families and the economy will bounce back after this pandemic,” he added.
Fenton said the idea to host a virtual 5K as a fundraiser came out of a brainstorming session when he and others at the school were looking for ways to replace the traditional fundraisers - “the golf tournament, the golden alumni luncheon, the multi-class reunion” - that were cancelled by COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings. Once they hit on the virtual 5K idea, Fenton said the Development Office, in conjunction with Head of School Dr. Paul Harrington, pulled the concept together in two weeks. The school began promoting the event through emails to students and families, and on its social media sites, on May 27, inviting runners to sign up to support the school.
The virtual format was a hit, and very popular with alumni, Fenton said.
“We had runners from 16 different states, it gave people from outside the community an opportunity to support the school,” he shared. The registered runners competed virtually in seven age divisions. Turning in the best time for the two-day event were: Joe Orszulak, Youth Division, 23:20; Isabella Jenson, Girls High School Division, 21:10; Declan Sears, Boys High School Division, 20:31; Brianna Perry, Women’s Open Division (18-39), 21:40; Daniel Markey, Men’s Open Division (18-39), 21:30; Katherine M. Kulig, Women’s Masters Division (40+), 21:34; and Steve Pitoniak, Men’s Masters Division (40+), 22:26.
Fenton said the fundraiser was so successful, the school is discussing running another 5K to support the tuition assistance fund in the fall - hopefully in person this time. “But we may keep the virtual element so people can participate from all over the country,” Fenton said.