Awesome 3000 returns to raise money for Salem schools

Salem’s largest fun run is back after raising $35,000 for local classrooms last year.

The Awesome 3000 and mascot Geo the Gator return to McCullough Stadium Saturday, April 27. More than 1,500 local kids have already signed up to participate.

“This really is a true community undertaking,” said Jodi Blackman, director of education and enrichment for United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley, which puts on the run.

Races are open to everyone from toddlers to high school seniors, and participants sign up to run distances from 300 to 3,000 meters. Registration is open online. There’s also a unified race where students with developmental disabilities are paired with a running buddy.

The cost to put on the event is covered by sponsors, so the $35 registration fee per student goes to a grant fund for teachers at local schools.

As is tradition, all participants will get a t-shirt featuring Geo. This year’s design is drawn by Jolene Angelo, a sophomore in Salem-Keizer School District’s online EDGE program.

The 2024 Awesome 3000 t-shirt logo, designed by Salem-Keizer EDGE sophomore Jolene Angelo.

Proceeds from the 2023 race paid for projects and supplies at 29 district schools and programs. At Grant Elementary School, a grant paid for noise reduction headphones and weighted items to help students regulate their emotions and behavior. West Salem High School anatomy and physiology students took a field trip to Willamette University’s cadaver lab.

“We just basically spent the year funding things. It was great,” Blackman said.

It’s the second year United Way has put on the race — a Salem fixture since 1983.

It was previously a fundraiser for the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, which closed its doors in 2020 after pandemic closures exacerbated financial challenges. 

The race was held online in 2020 and didn’t take place in 2021 or 2022 as Salem nonprofit regrouped and worked to absorb some of the education foundation’s former programs.

Blackman is happy to see both registrations and volunteer sign ups are trending higher than last year. They have about 220 volunteers signed up, out of about 400 needed to put on the event. Sign ups are open online here. Some schools and other groups have dedicated volunteer teams.

Blackman said she’s excited to be able to support local schools with more grants. United Way is exploring partnering with other local groups that give grants to teachers so educators don’t have to fill out more paperwork to get money for their classrooms.

“It’s really the most fun I have in my job,” Blackman 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.