After 20 years of sponsoring races that benefit Zimbabwe orphans, Los Altos resident Ellen Clark figures it’s time to stop.
“It has been a terrific run,” she said, no pun intended, of the annual Run for Zimbabwe Orphans and Fair.
Held each spring at St. Joseph School in Mountain View, the event promoted good health, philanthropy and cultural appreciation in local youth. Clark announced the news in a Nov. 26 email to supporters, emphasizing that her nonprofit Sustainable Living Foundation will continue to accept donations for the Makumbi Children’s Home and its 100 children. Youth stay in the home through age 18.
Over the years, the grassroots event raised approximately $500,000 for the home in Zimbabwe, a place Clark’s son Will visited during his time in the Peace Corps. Clark was inspired to launch the event after she traveled with her family to Africa in 1997 to visit Will, who was teaching children and teens from the Shona tribe in a remote village.
“We just fell in love with everything,” she said in a previous Town Crier interview, of her first visit to Zimbabwe. “But we saw poverty at a level you could not imagine. This was not a Club Med vacation – this was reality.”
The Clarks confronted a country with rampant unemployment, poverty, disease and a large number of orphaned children. Young women in Zimbabwe remain susceptible to prostitution, sex trafficking and forced marriage.
They had to help. The family looked for a legitimate orphanage that had been in operation a long time. They ultimately found Makumbi. The orphans attend an adjacent school.
The Clarks held their first event in 2000. The family embraced the cause enthusiastically, with Clark donning costumes depicting the animals of the distant African country – lions, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests – and entertaining children at the Los Altos main library to publicize the race. Will designed T-shirts for participants, each year featuring a different animal.
Before long, every member of the Clark family was involved in the Sustainable Living Foundation.
Ellen served as president, Will as vice president, husband Bill as chief financial officer, daughter Kristen as cultural director, daughter Teresa as secretary and son-in-law Dave Ruminski as technology director.
In addition to holding races of varying distances for various age levels, organizers hosted a fair that featured Zimbabwean foods, arts and crafts, and live performances.
“Our mission is to inspire kids to keep fit, create beautiful art and help others,” Clark noted.
“It was a great event for bringing families and community together,” said John Wakerly of Los Altos. His Wakerly Family Foundation was a major supporter of the event.
Each year, Clark donated event proceeds to a specific need at the orphanage, from tutoring to electric generators and well digging.
The energy and dedication needed to put on such an event was becoming more difficult to sustain as the years passed. So not long after the 20th annual event last April, Clark made the decision to retire. But not before she encouraged hundreds of local youth to become involved in the event, which impacted hundreds of youth in a remote location more than 10,000 miles away.
“She’s a dynamo – she really went all out,” Wakerly said. “You could feel the enthusiasm.” “I’ve received a lot of thanks,” she said. “The kids benefited tremendously. It was a great event.”
To donate and for more information, visit the Sustainable Living Foundation at zimbabweparaguay.net.