Pedal, Paddle, Run
School-Community Partnership at its FinestTwelve years ago, the Board of Trustees of the Absecon Education Foundation [AEF], met to brainstorm new fundraising ideas. The goal was to expand the involvement of the entire community in assisting the AEF in its mission to supplement the educational program of the Absecon Public School District.
Bill Parker, AEF President in 2001, emphasized the need to showcase our town. Absecon is a 7.2 square mile town with a population of 8,000, located in Atlantic County. Although primarily a residential community, the town also includes natural areas such as Heritage Park and the Faunce Landing section which border the bay. Whether fishing, kayaking, or just resting on a bench, the bay affords you an opportunity to view nature with the glistening Atlantic City skyline in the background.
In addition to showcasing our town, the Foundation felt the need to involve some type of physical activity. We were in search of a fresh idea as our traditional dinner-dance and yard sale fundraisers were becoming stale. In assessing the various options a triathlon seemed viable; however, finding enough athletes capable of swimming the bay was problematic. A decision was made to substitute kayaking for swimming. Thus was born the “Pedal-Paddle-Run ~ The Great Absecon Race.” The event begins at Heritage Park with a bicycle ride of 6 miles to the bay at Faunce Landing. A 1.5 mile kayak or paddle board route in the bay follows with a 2.5 mile run from the bay back to Heritage Park as the last leg. Racers can participate individually as an iron person or in teams of three.
We made some race day mistakes in our early years, but have fine-tuned the event through planning and preparation. We do not hire an outside firm to operate the race; therefore, our planning for the September event begins in the spring. Each AEF member has a specific role in the planning and operation of the race and approximately 50 volunteers help to assure that the race functions smoothly. It is a true hands-on experience for all and as CEO of the school district and executive director of the AEF, I actively participate by assisting at registration, greeting the runners at the finish line, and distributing prizes to the winners.
Our participants are split between serious competitive racers and folks who participate for fun and to support the AEF. The number of participants has increased over the years, and the event now averages approximately 120 racers. Our decision to expand our categories and allow paddle boards as well as kayaks should further increase the total number of racers this year.
Bob Davisson, Absecon resident, has participated in the event with his two daughters. “Participating in this event with my daughters is a great family bonding experience,” said Bob. “Knowing it is for a worthy cause makes it all the more special.”
Our goal of involving the entire community has certainly been accomplished as volunteers come from municipal government, parents, school administrators, school staff [unfortunately a job action due to negotiations will prevent them from volunteering this year], and other residents. The Absecon Fire Department, Police Department, and Ambulance Squad are integral to the planning of the event and are key contributors on race day. Sponsorships from local businesses help defray the cost of the race.
Joe Giardina, Marsh Elementary Principal and Absecon resident, has been a key volunteer for nine years. “This race is a prime example of what makes this community a great place to live. To see all of the volunteers working on behalf of our students makes this a premiere event.”
Any teacher, administrator, or community member is eligible to submit a grant to the AEF. A grant committee reviews the applications and awards up to $2,000 per applicant. Most of these are creative programs that help supplement the educational programs in our school. The “One Million Bones” trip to Washington, D.C., “iStories of Immigration,” and the “Integrated Arts Unit of Study” are just three examples of the numerous programs funded throughout the years. The funding would not be possible without the Pedal-Paddle-Run.
Biking down our tree-lined streets…kayaking in our bay with the Atlantic City casinos in the background…jogging back to beautiful Heritage Park on a sunny morning in September make the Pedal-Paddle-Run enjoyable for the participants and unique to the Absecon Community. As a result of this fine school-community partnership the students of Absecon become the day’s true winners!