2013-09-20 / Front Page

Striding for STRIVE

STRIVE 5K helps fill state funding gap
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Nate DiBiase of Westbrook, right, poses for the camera after he helped runners in the “STRIVE for Five” 5k road race gather at the finish line Saturday, Sept. 14. The race and block party brought more than 300 visitors to STRIVE’s Foden Road offices, raising more than $15,000 for the nonprofit organization. (Jack Flagler photo) Nate DiBiase of Westbrook, right, poses for the camera after he helped runners in the “STRIVE for Five” 5k road race gather at the finish line Saturday, Sept. 14. The race and block party brought more than 300 visitors to STRIVE’s Foden Road offices, raising more than $15,000 for the nonprofit organization. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – The offices of STRIVE are located in a business-oriented area of South Portland, where hundreds of employees at large companies such as Wex Inc., Fairchild Semiconductor and Texas Instruments commute to and from work on weekdays, mingling with UPS delivery trucks and Maine Mall shoppers in a heavily traveled area.

Come the weekend, that traffic near the nonprofit organization’s Foden Road offices usually evaporates. But early on a chilly Saturday morning, Sept. 14, cars filled the Kaplan University parking lot next to the STRIVE offices as hundreds of runners, walkers and spectators participated in the “STRIVE for Five” 5K road race.

STRIVE offers a range of programs, including summer camps, education, social events and employment training for young people age 11 to 24 with developmental disabilities. Peter Brown, program director at STRIVE, said the organization helps 850 young people each year, with three to five families added each week.

Race organizers say events such as the 5K are especially important this year for STRIVE because this summer, the Maine Legislature cut $70,000 in funding to the organization, leaving most of STRIVE’s programs solely dependent on fundraising events such as the road race. According to Brown, STRIVE has filled the $70,000 gap by expanding its own fundraising efforts and making cutbacks.

Just before 8 a.m. Saturday morning, 138 runners gathered at the starting line of the race and weaved their way through the Texas Instruments parking lot before looping through Jetport Plaza Road and back to STRIVE’s campus. Brown estimated Saturday’s event raised $15,000, which was $5,000 more than last year’s total.

The fundraising effort was helped in large part by more than 20 nearby businesses that assisted with the event by organizing a block party on the campus of STRIVE and the parking lot of the Medically Oriented Gym next door. The block party featured tables staffed by local business representatives offering everything from food and water for runners to raffle tickets.

Brown said the block party, which also featured activities for children like a moon bounce and appearance by Maine Red Claws mascot Crusher, brought in about as many visitors as the race itself.

The race began last year when representatives from UPS, including STRIVE volunteer Kevin Fitzpatrick, approached the nonprofit with the idea to host an event that could bring the local business community together.

Fitzpatrick received local media coverage when he spent more than 75 hours on the roof of Jimmy the Greek’s at the Maine Mall this month to raise money for STRIVE, but he said the positive response speaks more to the mission of the organization than his own personal achievement.

“It wasn’t an effort to get me off the roof, it was an effort to get me off the roof to support STRIVE,” Fitzpatrick said Saturday before the race. “Not everyone has a job where they can come home every day and reflect about how they’ve helped a young person with developmental disabilities.”

Gene Longobardi, a paralegal with Fairchild Semiconductor, was one of the many runners who signed up for the first time this year. Longobardi is an experienced runner who has participated in the sport for more than 30 years, since he attended junior high school in Long Island. When his company signed onto the race as a sponsor, Longobardi decided to add the 5K to the list of 10 to 20 races he runs each year.

“It’s a great course. Hopefully I can do it every year from now on,” Longobardi said.

The cross-country team from Hyde School in Bath made the trip to South Portland for a final tuneup before their prep school meet schedule begins Saturday, Sept. 21 at Gould Academy in Bethel.

Hyde runner Isaac Preston, 18, finished first in the race, crossing the finish line with a time of 17:17. Cross-country coach Peter E. Rowe said the team was attracted to the race in part because of the mission of STRIVE.

“There’s a large focus at Hyde on community service, and this was a great opportunity to practice those values in the community,” Rowe said.

According to Brown, STRIVE employees will soon turn their attention to the organization’s largest fundraiser, the dance marathon weekend that will take place at the Maine Mall in March.

Last year, that event raised more than $60,000 for STRIVE. For the 2014 event, STRIVE hopes to raise $100,000, a goal Brown called “ambitious but realistic.”

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