The moment Michael Gaffney realized this year’s Akron Marathon fell on his late brother’s birthday, the 48-year-old was determined to exchange his volunteer’s T-shirt for a runner’s bib.
He coaxed his brothers — Glenn, 56; Keith, 55; and Tom, 51 — into joining him. None of them runners, they scoured the Internet for tips on how to begin and started hitting local park trails this spring.
Their motivation: to raise money for the Shawn Gaffney Foundation, which honors the brother they lost to leukemia in 1988 by supporting cancer-related causes, nurse education and financially struggling families.
Over the years, the family has collected $130,000 by playing golf, bowling, selling cookbooks and holding raffles.
But the timing of this year’s marathon seemed prophetic, and Michael Gaffney said he is thrilled to merge his passion for the foundation with his love of the marathon, where he has been volunteering annually since its 2003 debut.
Rounding out the brothers’ five-man relay team is Keith’s son, 16-year-old son Sean, who is on St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School cross country and track teams.
Sean will take on the most challenging section of the 26.2-mile course, while the brothers hope to get through their individual legs without breaking into a walk.
“We’re not going to break any records,” Gaffney said with a chuckle. “I’m just very excited to be a participant.”
Money for orphans
The Gaffney family’s foundation is among dozens of causes that plan to use the Akron Marathon as a fundraising tool.
Paige Hale, a 1999 Revere High School graduate living in California, will return to Akron to run the marathon in support of a village in Kpandu, Ghana.
She was moved by the plight of orphans during a 2008 medical mission trip there and since then has been working to raise money for a new orphanage and medical care.
Hale is now raising money to send a three-person film team (all Revere graduates) to Africa next month to document the village’s needs.
“Our goal will be to make certain each of the children have everything they need to lead a healthy, safe and successful life,” she said.
Hale imagines the film playing before civic groups, at public venues like the Civic Theatre, and at locations throughout the country as she travels in her job as a pediatric ICU nurse who transfers to hospitals with immediate staffing emergencies.
Team Go Ghana at the Akron Marathon is made up of two relay teams, several half-marathon runners, and three folks running the full marathon.
After the race, Team Go Ghana will host an evening event to collect more money to pay for the roof of an orphanage the group has been building.
“Akron is a phenomenal place to raise money,” Hale said. “It’s so good for nonprofit organizations.”
In addition to individual and private group efforts, the Akron Marathon has an organized program to benefit charities.
Carrie Gobrogge, director of runner services, says nonprofits can sign up to be charity partners. Fifteen did this year.
When runners register, they can select a charity and forward donation requests to their friends and family. The website Active.com handles all the money and paperwork.
Meanwhile, groups that meet certain bronze, silver or gold criteria get a donation from the marathon. Bronze charities receive $250 for signing up 10 volunteers, getting 20 registered runners and raising $1,000. Groups that do more can qualify for $500 and $1,000 gifts, Gobrogge said.
Among this year’s charity partners is Summit County’s Habitat for Humanity.
President Rochelle Fisher said the group didn’t know what to expect and set an extraordinary goal of raising $80,000 under a project called Pounding Pavement, Pounding Nails: The House that Runners Built.
As of Monday, the group had 38 runners selecting it as a charity, with collections totalling a little over $1,000, Fisher said. She hopes that amount will grow before Saturday.
Habitat and other charity partners will have booths at Friday’s Health & Fitness Expo at the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron. Visitors can donate and sign 2-by-4 studs to be used in a house.
Even if Habitat doesn’t collect enough money for a house, Fisher said, the exposure is sure to benefit the group.
“They tell us 20,000 people come to the expo. Even if they just glimpse our logo and our name, maybe it will intrigue them into checking us out more,” she said.
Small, yet noble causes
Not all causes are so ambitious or well-established.
Take Jim Ballard, a Kenmore resident who is running to honor a friend who died in Afghanistan.
Ballard runs the marathon or half-marathon every year, and always in support of a friend or relative going through a difficult time.
He doesn’t always collect money. Sometimes, he just lets his targets know he’s dedicating his training and the race to them.
“I always carry something of meaning that belongs to them through the race and return it to them at the end,” Ballard said. “In that way, they get to ‘run’ the race with me.’ ”
Other times, he coaxes friends and family into dipping into their wallets.
Money raised this year will be given to Kait Wyatt, wife of Marine Cpl. Derek Wyatt, an East High School graduate killed in 2010 in Afghanistan.
Kait gave birth to the couple’s only child, Michael, the day after Wyatt’s death.
Ballard said Kait Wyatt intends to use the money to buy equipment for the baseball team and the ROTC programs at East.
How to help
Here’s how to donate to the causes in this story:
• Donations to Team Gaffney can be made online at www.active.com/donate/shawngaffney or by sending a check to Shawn Gaffney Foundation, 230 Green Hill Drive, Tallmadge, OH 44278.
• Team Go Ghana is collecting donations at its website, www.teamgoghana.org. The group will also have a send-off party for the film crew at 7 p.m. Saturday at Ken Stewart’s Lodge. There is a $10 entrance fee to the party, which includes music, appetizers and a cash bar.
• To donate to the Katherine Wyatt Benevolent Fund, to be used for East High School programs, visit any FirstMerit Bank branch.
• The official marathon donation site for Summit County’s Habitat for Humanity is at www.active.com/donate/hfhsc.
• To see a list of all Akron Marathon charity partners, visit www.akronmarathon.org/charities.aspx. Just click on the logo of a charity to donate.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.