Most nonprofit organizations rely on banquets, auctions or even car washes and bake sales to raise funds to finance their work. For the Flathead Attention Home, though, sending athletes running, biking and paddling through 55 miles of Montana scenery has proved the trick.
The Glacier Challenge is a six-leg multi-sport race that’s perennially the biggest fundraiser for the attention home, a non-profit dedicated to caring for young people who are at risk or who face family crises. This year’s race begins at 7:30 a.m. on July 12 at Whitefish’s Riverside Park.
“I love that we have something different than a traditional fundraiser,” Hannah Plumb, the race’s coordinator and development director for the attention home, said. “I wouldn’t knock those events – they’re popular because they usually work – but I think people can get tired of those and that this also attracts a different group of people who maybe wouldn’t go to a banquet.”
FAH cares for kids who are in a crisis situation – runaways, kids dealing with bad family situations like abuse or neglect and teens with chemical dependency problems, among others. The group provides short-term housing for up to eight kids at a time between ages 10 and 18. It’s open year-round, 24 hours a day.
The goal, Plumb said, is to provide a safe place for children, while keeping them in their community where they can continue school and other activities. In its 11th year in the valley, FAH has helped more than 1,000 children.
Last year, almost 300 people participated in the Glacier Challenge, bringing in about $14,000 for the organization – a much-appreciated boon for a group that runs an annual deficit. Sponsors from the community cover the costs of putting on the race, so that all registration fees go toward helping FAH. Racers can also choose to make an additional donation when they register or at the event.
This year Plumb is hoping for 300 to 350 participants. “It’s been growing every year,” she said. “I think it’s gotten to the point where people know about it and are looking forward to it each year.”
Racers can tackle the course as individuals, with a partner or as a team of three to seven people. Registration is $50 for solo racers, $100 for partners and $210 for teams. Plumb is still accepting applications, but there is a $20 late registration fee since the race’s original June 25 deadline has passed.
The race begins at Riverside Park with an 11-kilometer run. The next leg is a 2-mile kayak down the Whitefish River. That’s followed by a 15-mile road bike ride to the Pig Farm, a popular mountain biking spot, where participants take an 8-mile mountain bike trek followed by another 11-mile stretch of road biking. Racers then hop in canoes for a 5-mile paddle, which leads to the final leg of the challenge, a 5-kilometer run.
It’s a grueling route for one individual, but Plumb says, allowing for teams makes it manageable for all levels of athlete.
“It’s a balance between making the race a challenge for people who are more extreme and want to be competitive, and people who are just out for fun,” she said.
Prizes are handed out to first-place winners and contestants with the fastest times in individual legs – so more serious racers on non-competitive teams can still win in their personal section.
The offbeat fundraiser was the brainchild of Jenae Schmautz – Plumb’s predecessor – and Will Schmautz, chief executive officer of Kalispell’s Nomad Technologies, one of the major sponsors for this year’s race.
The couple fashioned the Glacier Challenge after a race in Bellingham, Wash. that they’ve regularly participated in before. That race, Will said, brings in about 4,000 people and $17 million each year to the community through the event itself and the money participants spend on lodging, shopping and eating in the city.
“We thought it would be an effective and different way to get out the message about the group and raise money,” Will said. “And we felt like the valley was a perfect place to start a race like this; maybe not on the same scale, but still a great opportunity if it was well run and well managed.”
Will is also a member of last year’s winning team, which includes three of the partners at Nomad and their friends. The group will be participating again this year and looking to repeat. “It’s a great race in a great area for a great organization,” he said.
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