Folks running a marathon to raise money for charity is kind of a cliche these days. Cool, yeah, but not that unusual. Roll back the clock 18 years though, and it was a bit of a novelty. In that environment the OE Runners were born. The group trained for and ran the Chicago Marathon to raise money for Opportunity Enterprises, an organization that serves individuals with disabilities in the Northwest Indiana area.
In that first year, 1999, the team started with 72 runners who collectively raised $37,000 for OE. The runners in their orange moisture-wicking shirts became a fixture on the streets and trails around here, and took Chicago by storm, becoming an official charity partner. The team membership topped out at 511 runners and a reached a high-water mark fundraising of $286,000.
That is a lot of miles and a huge amount of money for any non-profit agency.
The Great Recession took a bite out of our fundraising totals in the mid-2000s, and then (although we didn’t know it at the time), the marathon organizers dealt OE Runners a death blow. With demand for entries far outstripping supply (capped at 45,000 runners), the marathon instituted a lottery system a few years ago, and bumped up the fundraising minimum for charity runners. For a lot of us, it was way out of our league. In my 6 years with OE Runners, I came close to the new minimum one time. Mrs. Dull is a professional fundraiser; I’m not.
Last year: 70 of us raised about $45,000. Net out the training costs, and it was barely worth it for the organization. Thus the decision was made to close down the team. OE sent us off with a bang though: a few Saturdays ago the organization put on a fun run & farewell breakfast for all the team members through the years, giving us an opportunity to share some stories and to look at photos and team shirts from past seasons.
And: a thank you from the CEO. Pretty cool.
She laid out the numbers for us: in 18 years, OE Runners raised $3.2 million. That amount funds services to 20 families for 20 years. Which is awesome.
There’s a lot more families and a lot more years. Take a look at the Opportunity Enterprises Annual Report. Those services don’t come cheap. The money the OE Runners raised is pretty much a drop in the bucket. Hard to replace, but a sliver of the total operating budget. Who’s gonna pick up the tab?
I’m thinking a lot about sustainable funding these days. Whether most folks recognize it or not, the gravy train has left the station. We’re just used to thinking, “Oh, Washington will pay for that” or “Indianapolis will pay for that”, when the reality is, anything we want over and above the minimum, we’re going to have to find a way to pay for ourselves.
Enter the School Referendum.
My district passed twin referenda 2 years ago, to pay for a renovation and expansion of the physical plant, and to pay for salaries. Not every district can, or is willing to, raise its own taxes to pay the bills at the school. There’s a serious throwdown on social media over the EC vote this week.
Opponents of the referendum are circulating a flyer with salaries and recent raises for the highest paid central office administrators. Nothing dirty, all public records. But it’s having the desired effect. Man, it’s hard to ask people in one of the poorest communities in the Region to raise taxes on themselves.
And it’s more than just schools.
Indiana is looking at a bill coming due for long-overdue infrastructure improvements. They don’t call this place “The Crossroads of America” for nothing. I think at one time Indiana had more miles of Interstate per square mile of area than any other state in the union. The statehouse just passed a tax increase on gas and vehicle registration, which led to predictable cries from political opponents. Why not tap a 2 billion dollar rainy-day fund, they say? Because that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of what needs done. Literally 10% of the total bill. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. With a business cycle that seems primed to turn down again.
I’m a conservative. I don’t want my taxes to go up one penny. And (not “but”) I also know that there is no free ride. Those roads and bridges aren’t gonna repair themselves. I voted yes on the Valpo schools referenda (and raised my own taxes) when I was only a resident & homeowner, not a district employee. Because the schools here (and in East Chicago, and Gary, and Hebron, and everywhere) are that important.
Somebody’s gonna pay the tab for taking care of our most vulnerable citizens, and to repair our roads and bridges, and to keep our schools up-to-date and safe for our students. Who’s it gonna be though?
Our kids. And grandkids, probably.
There are issues you just can’t run away from.