I have been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan (BBBS) for almost 15 years. I have heard and witnessed many heartfelt stories of kids from low-income, single-parent homes. One that became tattooed on my heart was when a Big asked his 9-year-old Little Brother, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” The little boy looked him in the eye and simply said one word, “Poor.”

What kind of life did this little boy live in his first nine years on this earth that ingrained that answer on his tongue? Some of us can only imagine, while others of us have some firsthand knowledge. At one time, I was also a 9-year-old in a low-income, single-parent household. The difference between this particular boy and me was that I always had hope. A mother, grandmothers, a grandfather, uncles, aunts, and community members each gave me guidance and hope in small yet significant ways over the years.

Many kids are not as lucky as I was. This is where BBBS comes in, by matching them with adults that will care, listen and believe. There is no magic needed, just time for a simple board game, a walk on the beach, sitting at a sporting event, being a friendly face in the crowd at a school program, or simple conversation over a meal. Hope is nurtured and grown in everyday life events that so many of us take for granted.

I have never wanted to be an advocate or fundraiser, but sometimes we figure out that the difficult road of life is actually a path that has prepared us to do good for others beyond what we ever thought was possible. It was this realization that led me to the creation of Marathon4Kids.

Marathon4Kids was formed in 2009 with the dual purpose of creating awareness and raising funds for kids in need of adult mentors. The statement was admittedly bold, “I will run one marathon in each state plus Washington, D.C., to benefit BBBS.” I only needed two things to accomplish my mission: a healthy body and a positive community response.

The body has mostly held together. Over the years, there has been a broken foot and a pelvic stress fracture. Arthritis that I inherited has been the biggest physical battle of the journey. In 2016, I had a total replacement of my left hip. Focused on the “reason for the running” (and with a doctor’s permission), I did the work necessary to get back to running form, and I can happily report that the new hardware has carried me through the last 15 marathons.

The community response has been beyond my wildest dreams. With two marathons left, I have passed $500,000 raised. Even more importantly, community volunteers have stepped up. An organization that was serving less than 200 kids in 2005 will help close to 400 in 2020. We are all fortunate to live in a region that gives its time and treasure in abundance.

As I write this, I am two marathons away from my goal. I have run over 23,000 miles supported by family, donors, co-workers, corporate sponsors, and fellow BBBS board members who do amazing work in other meaningful endeavors, all to benefit kids in need.

In the mornings, my body lets me know that it is time to end this chapter in my life. As I stare the end in the face, my heart is at peace. Fifty-one marathons have been a pleasure, a grind, a passion, and an awakening all wrapped into one simple desire to grow hope in the darkness that covers the hearts of too many kids yearning for something more than being poor.