Going the (short) distance to make a difference

It is entirely possible that saying the name of this fundraising race may take longer than running the race: the First Annual Ultimate Extreme Ultra .1K Race benefiting Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. By the time you catch your breath after that mouthful, you may have crossed the finish line 328 feet away. The race takes place Saturday, Sept. 28, at 11:30 a.m. on the downtown Kalamazoo Mall.

Sitting on the board of trustees for Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan, located at 222 N. Kalamazoo Mall in Suite 100, is Tom Jager. The .1K race was Jager’s idea, formed when Jager and his wife Laura participated in a similar race in Grand Rapids about a year ago.

"That was a fundraiser, too," Jager says, "and for all outward appearances, it was a running event. Sure, you saw a lot of goofy stuff, with some dressed for a serious race and others showing up in high heels. We thought Kalamazoo would be the perfect place for such an event, with people experiencing our downtown. It would be like a big block party."

A big block party with a cause.

Julie Waldron, grief counselor at Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan, agreed that the .1K race would be a fun way to show the greater Kalamazoo community "that hospice is an important addition to the quality of life." She says, "The race goes along with the concept that hospice is about enjoying life to the fullest."

Matching the fun event to a cause important to him was a natural for Jager. "I lost my son, Grant, about five and a half years ago," Jager says. "He was the light of our life. The people at Rose Arbor Hospice Residence were so great to us during those days."

When Jager brought up the idea of the .1K race as a fundraiser for Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan, which includes Rose Arbor Hospice Residence along with its other hospice programs, to his colleagues at Nulty Insurance, he had his first sponsor. Nulty Insurance was soon joined by the Millennium Restaurant Group, Gazelle Sports, Absolute Video & Multimedia, and Catalyst Development Company, LLC.

"We needed about $10,000 from the sponsors to fund the event," says Jager. He was not on the board for the hospice yet at that time, but he was soon appointed to it. With the help of Sarah Kerry, event planner at the hospice, the event was under way.

"This event has tremendous potential to increase community awareness for our organization in a fun and engaging manner, as well as to become a main source of fundraising for our programs and services," says Kerry. "It’s been a phenomenal experience so far, and I am excited to be a part of its growth over the next few years."

Participation in the .1K race costs registrants $25. Late registrants will still be signed up as late as a half hour before start time at Gazelle Sports on the downtown mall. Otherwise, registrants may do so through the hospice website, and all participants will receive a commemorative T-shirt and a bag of "goodies."

"Participation in the Ultimate Extreme Ultra .1k event will generate funding for hospice programs such as grief support for adults and children, massage therapy, and music therapy," says Laura Latiolais, director of development and community relation at Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. "Donated funds will help cover the costs of the grief support program, provide financial assistance to families at Rose Arbor with room and board fees, and help cover the cost of hospice services for those who are uninsured or underinsured. It is our commitment as a nonprofit hospice agency to accept clients based on their need for care, not their ability to pay."

"There are still so many myths about what hospice is about," adds Julie Waldron, grief counselor. "People tend to think hospice is just for the elderly, or for someone with cancer. But we serve people of all ages, in all kinds of situations. Hospice is a philosophy of life. We can’t always add days to someone’s life, but we can add quality."

Grief support is offered to the caregiver of the patient up to 13 months after the loss of a loved one, and it is offered free of charge. Waldron works with children and young people ages 5 to 20. Counseling is both one-on-one with trained counselors and also with a variety of grief support groups.

"We offer grief support to anyone in and even outside of the Kalamazoo community, whether they have used hospice services or not," says Waldron. "Hospice works with the whole person, not just the disease, not just the body. Hospice takes an interdisciplinary approach and offers skilled medical care and pain management, but we also offer emotional care and support to the patient and the patient’s family, in residence or at home."

"Over the last three years," adds Latiolais, "we have admitted nearly 3,000 people to our hospice program."

"About 80 to 100 children are in our grief support programs at any one time," says Waldron.

The evening before the race, restaurants along the downtown mall will be offering discounts to race participants. From 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the Friday before the race, The Union, Epic Bistro, Tap House and Mangia Mangia are offering meals heavy on carbs to prepare participants for that strenuous .1 kilometer they will endure on Saturday morning.

"There will be pre-race and after-race activities," Jager says. "Mayor Bobby Hopewell will give our race kick-off speech.

Photos will be taken at the finish line. And all along the mall, retailers will open their doors to people, offering discounts and encouraging people along the way."

Chair massages and a raffle will also be on hand--and yes, participants will have time to stop for a massage along their grueling route. A race-day special brew by Arcadia Brewing Company, called Short Finish, will be offered at all restaurants along the race route.

"It’s a light-hearted event that helps people and raises awareness about what hospice does," says Waldron.

"We want people to come downtown and enjoy themselves while benefiting a great cause," says Jager.

Zinta Aistars is creative director for Z Word, LLC, and editor of the literary magazine, The Smoking Poet. She lives on a farm in Hopkins.

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