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Fundraiser Goes Into the Woods

An annual trail race through the town forest uses local resources to raise money while abiding by a policy that prohibits sales by students.

by Patty Catalano
PHOTO BY MARY PRESCOTT-NINNESS

Parent leaders at the Richards School PTO in Newport, N.H., don’t bother seeking out swanky venues for their annual fundraiser event; they don’t even have to leave the neighborhood. Their storybook setting, the Newport Town Forest, is home to Six in the Stix, an annual footrace over a rocky, hilly trail in the woods behind the middle and high schools and ending at the school track.

Heading to the woods each year has proven an effective way for the Richards PTO to tap the community’s natural resources to help their school. “Our students are prohibited from selling items, so we are challenged when it comes to fundraising,” says former PTO copresident Mary Brock. “This trail race has been our only major fundraising event for the last two years.” Brock and former copresident Stefanee Currier organize the signature event with local cycling club Team Pinnacle and the town’s recreation department. Donations from area businesses cover race expenses each year, including T-shirts for volunteers and a limited number of runners. The PTO also puts on a 3/4-mile fun run for children following the main Six in the Stix event.

Brock says the PTO relies on the trail race’s income, usually around $1,700, to fund much of the group’s programming and activities for the entire year. Among the programs offered free for families are a welcome-back ice cream social, goody bags for new kindergarten families, two movie nights, a science night, TV Turnoff Week activities, and a special three-week literacy program at the town library. Students especially look forward to Friday mornings at the school during those weeks because each one gets to select a new free book. “We give out over 1,000 new books during the program,” Brock says.

Six in the Stix got its start as a mountain bike race called the Foliage 400, where riders would pedal laps in the woods for a dizzying 400 minutes. “While being a good fundraiser for the PTO, this event was very time-consuming and required a good deal of work and volunteers,” Currier recalls. Her husband, Brian, who rides with Team Pinnacle, suggested modifying the race’s format to involve runners on the 6-mile trail instead of cyclists.

Nowadays, finding volunteers to help with the event seems like a picnic in the pines. According to Currier, PTO volunteers help man water stations, register and score runners, bake or donate refreshments, and clean up after the race. Adds Brock, “We had some dads that helped out with the fun run after to make sure all the kids made it out of the woods!”

The Group
Richards School PTO, Newport, N.H.

School size: 300 students, grades K-3
Annual earnings: $3,200
Fundraisers: Label collection program, spring adults-only dance, Six in the Stix trail race
Mission statement: Provide support for students’ educational and recreational needs and promote open communication between administrators, teachers, and parents.

Six in the Stix
A rugged 6-mile trail race through nearby scenic forest

Training partners: Finding an athletic group that had held races before to team up with has been key for the Richards School PTO. The group coordinates Six in the Stix with local cycling group Team Pinnacle and the Newport Recreation Department. Pinnacle members map and mark the course, clear the trail pre-race, handle timekeeping and man the water station, among other things.

A jump start: Weeks in advance, PTO leaders send letters to local businesses to help absorb expenses such as T-shirts, numbered bibs, and prizes. They also allow applicants to preregister online for a reduced entrance fee.

They come running: Six in the Stix gives parents a chance to get involved even if they can’t be there for the race, Brock says. “We depend on volunteers to donate the refreshments.” On race day, two parent volunteers help with registration, two handle refreshments, and four keep track of runners’ times.

Sweet prizes: The PTO gives ribbons and small nips of New Hampshire maple syrup to all children who cross the finish line; the top three racers in each age group take home their own bottles.

Not just a pretty race: In 2004, the Richards School PTO was recognized by the town’s chamber of commerce for “outstanding contribution to the growth and betterment of the Newport area.”

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