Last year, not long after the 20th Run for Zimbabwe Orphans & Fair had taken place, founders Bill and Ellen Clark of Los Altos figured the event had run its course and it was time to retire.
The Clarks are holding true to that intention. But the Zim Run, as it’s called, refuses to die.
A Feb. 15 thank-you dinner for volunteers revealed a surprise announcement: The Zim Run is not only continuing, the 21st annual event is already scheduled March 29 at St. Francis High School.
New St. Francis cross-country coach Phil Pompei said he and others in the school’s track-and-field program have decided to carry on as the run’s chief coordinators. The annual fundraiser features a variety of races for preschool age to young adult, an art fair, games, food and live entertainment. Proceeds benefit Zimbabwe’s Makumbi Children’s Home and its 100 children.
“My response was probably similar to most of yours when I first heard Bill and Ellen were stepping down,” Pompei told the gathering during the Feb. 15 event at St. William Hall in Los Altos. “My first response was, ‘No!’ My second response was, ‘What are our options?’ Through some conversations, we decided that St. Francis High School, and specifically our track and field program, wants to carry this legacy on, continue the partnership.”
Pompei, a St. Francis alumnus who had volunteered at the Zim Run as a high school student, said he saw the benefits of the event’s “two-way philanthropy.”
Students at the orphanage benefited, but so did local students who participated in the event. Bill noted that approximately 100 volunteers were involved every year, including many students from local high schools.
“My first concern was, what’s going to happen to those kids, the orphans, but my second thought not too long after was, well, what about our kids? They benefit from this partnership just as much,” Pompei said. “They realize that, specifically, our track program, that running and competing, it’s not just about winning championships. There’s an opportunity to use these gifts, these talents they’re blessed with, to bless others, to make it more than just about running fast and winning trophies.
“When I was in high school volunteering at this event, I got to come back after college and start coaching and encouraging our student-athletes to volunteer at this event – we’re not done.”
Legacy lives on
Launched in 2000 and held each spring at St. Joseph School in Mountain View, the Run for Zimbabwe Orphans promoted good health, philanthropy and cultural appreciation in local youth. Ellen announced the couple’s retirement news in a Nov. 26 email to supporters but emphasized that her nonprofit Sustainable Living Foundation would continue to accept donations for the children’s home.
Over its 20 years, the event raised approximately $500,000 for the home in Zimbabwe, a place the Clarks’ son, Will, visited during his time in the Peace Corps. Ellen 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 saw poverty at a level you could not imagine,” she recalled.
The Clarks looked for a legitimate orphanage that had been in operation a long time and ultimately found Makumbi.
The family embraced the cause enthusiastically, with Ellen 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.
“Our mission is to inspire kids to keep fit, create beautiful art and help others,” Ellen often said of the event.
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 event last April, the Clarks made the decision to retire. But Pompei and St. Francis are taking over.
“This partnership will continue, and I’m really excited to very humbly and graciously take over some of the organizational efforts,” Pompei said. “We all know the work and effort that Bill and Ellen put into this event. … We have our whole track staff and student-athletes getting excited about hosting on March 29 at St. Francis.”
To donate and for more information, visit the Sustainable Living Foundation at zimbabweparaguay.net.