Awesome 3000 to return for 2023

Salem’s most popular fun run will be back for 2023 — and with it, an ambitious plan to raise money for local schools.

After a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic and the closure of the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley is resurrecting the Awesome 3000.

It’s scheduled for April 29, 2023.

“Everyone has missed it,” said Christy Perry, superintendent of the Salem-Keizer School District. She said she’s gotten inquiries from gym teachers and families about its future.

The annual run began in 1983 as a fundraiser for the newly-established education foundation, which used proceeds from the $5 entry fee to provide grants to local teachers. 

As the event grew, more divisions were added, and eventually race distances ranged from 300 to 3,000 meters. With t-shirts for all participating kids, the event was a family favorite in Salem, with some students who made a point of collecting each year’s design.

It often drew upwards of 2,500 participants and 10,000 people to McCullough Stadium.

United Way is taking on the annual race as part of a larger effort to continue some of the education foundation’s work supporting local schools.

Rhonda Wolf, CEO, said United Way is working to set up funds donors can contribute to for supporting students and projects at local schools. She spoke briefly about plans at a Dec. 13 school board meeting, and told Salem Reporter the goal is for the Awesome 3000 to generate money to support the project.

“We’re going to work really hard to get all of the expenses sponsored,” she said. “That’s one of the things United Way brings to the table – we have connections with a lot of businesses.”

After the education foundation closed in June 2020, United Way took over its Enrichment Academy programs, which provided after school help with homework and activities at three elementary, four middle and two high schools.

Now, they’re taking on a larger foundation role by providing direct support to schools as the education foundation once did.

Ron Hays, former CEO of United Way, has been working on the school fundraising project under contract with the nonprofit.

He said the hope is to give people ways to directly aid local schools “to augment or help them be able to do some extra things they couldn’t do through the normal budget process.”

“I would like to have a fund that I could invest or put money into where my grandkids are going to school in Salem-Keizer,” he said.

Details on the funds are still being worked out, including the specifics of what money can be used for. Wolf said some possibilities include covering field trip costs, activity fees, uniforms or other needs for students who otherwise couldn’t afford to participate in sports or music or other offerings.

“We don’t want anyone turned away from being able to participate from whatever they want to participate in in school,” she said.

Perry said she’s appreciative someone is picking up the work of funding schools and said the district wants to make sure the process of getting money approved is simple and streamlined for each school. 

She said it’s hard to judge the likely impact until funds are set up and she has some idea of the level of contributions.

“I do appreciate that they’re also starting slow and starting small,” she said.

While donors will be able to contribute to specific schools, a portion of each donation will be directed to a districtwide equity fund, with that money set aside for schools with higher shares of low-income students.

That’s intended to ensure that it’s not just the schools with the most affluent parents who benefit from the funds.

Wolf said their goal is to have funds up and running by January 2024. For now, her team is focused on the Awesome 3000, which she hopes will raise $30,000 to $50,000 toward the school funds.

More information about the race and registration is coming in January, she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.