Bellingham welcomes first ever Longest Day 10K

Racers take their first strides to begin the Longest Day 10K in Fairhaven. Bryce Johnson, center, leads the pack of runners. // Photo by Zachary Jimenez

By Emily Erskine and Olivia Klein

On the longest day of the year, racers, volunteers and countless others made their way down to the streets of Fairhaven for a community 10K race, titled The Longest Day 10K,  in support of Teach One to Lead One, a national youth mentoring program with a branch in Whatcom County. 

The race began with a cheering crowd on June 21, the evening of the 2019 Summer Solstice. Among the onlookers were over 400 participants eager to contribute their time and money to a cause that directly benefits youth in Whatcom County.

Meredith LaPlante crosses the finish line with her son Joe LaPlante after their race together. // Photo by Zachary Jimenez

The Whatcom chapter of Teach One to Lead One was kickstarted by Bellingham resident Jacob Mack in 2018. Stemming from his compassion for children in need and his history as a foster parent, Mack said he wanted to create an environment of understanding and support for local youth. 

“It’s something that my wife Allison and I have been passionate about for a really long time,” Mack said. “This organization is different than any organization I’ve ever seen in that it couples with curriculum, which is amazing.”

According to their website, integrating mentorship programs into the school system directly is a major goal for Teach One to Lead One. Mack said that a lot of students don’t experience the benefits of direct adult relationships in their lives.

“It’s that basic stuff that kids need – social, emotional stuff, like respect and compassion, integrity with a healthy adult relationship that they can see week after week, and that’s where the magic of change happens,” Mack said. 

The mentoring program works by allowing caring adults to provide support and guidance to at-risk youth. According to their website, this process begins with a training session, which leads to the integration of teaching and working directly with the youth. 

“We just finished our sessions at Whatcom County middle schools,” Mack said. “I had a kid say to me, ‘I didn’t even really realize things like this existed but it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ve been struggling and I didn’t even know why.’”

The Longest Day 10K was organized by race co-directors Lori Reese and Molly McKenna, with the support of Scott Hume, CEO of Salish Wealth Management. 

“We started discussions in October,” Reese said. “But I think I really started planning [the event] out once Scott came on board. I think that was like January or February. So, about eight months.” 

The race was designed for participants to give directly to the program by requiring $30 to enter, $10 of which goes to Teach One to Lead One. 

“We want to give them [Teach One to Lead One] a platform because there’s 750 different nonprofit organizations here in Whatcom County alone, so it’s hard to get noticed,” Reese said. “We wanted to give them opportunity for the community to get to know them.”

While participants and sponsors were responsible for fundraising efforts of the mentorship program, community volunteers helped to keep the event running smoothly, staffing checkpoints and food tents at the end of the race. 

Michael Jay was one such volunteer. He helped put together gift bags for the participants after the race. 

“I volunteered because I had a friend who was running and we’re here to support him,” Jay said. “I thought if we were going to show up to support him we might as well help out.” 

Jay was a runner for many years and said he missed it a great deal. Volunteering for this kind of event is a great opportunity for anyone uninclined or unable to run to stay engaged in their community, Jay said. 

Participant Stephanie Semiday celebrates as she crosses the finish line. // Photo by Mike Oh

Jay said he was excited not only to support his friend and raise money for a charitable cause, but to also make new connections with other volunteers. 

Jeri Delatorre, another volunteer at the event and mentor with Teach One to Lead One, echoed this sentiment.

“The awesome part of volunteering is the opportunity to meet new people,” Delatorre said. “It’s been fun to meet Michael and his wife and a lot of people here.”

At 38 minutes and 10 seconds, the first racer, Bryce Johnson, crossed the finish line. Speakers blasted pump-up music as the announcer called his name. 

Johnson came forward to receive his medal and cool down after the lengthy run. 

“It went great,” Johnson said. “I thought it was a really cool event they put on and I’m happy to donate the money that went toward the race.” 

This was the inaugural Longest Day 10K race, but after receiving so many positive responses, volunteers and participants alike looked forward in anticipation for many more to come.

“Get out there and do it,” Jay said. “Be an active participant in your community.”

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