As we continue to close out our 2021 year and head into our tenth year as a company, we had the chance to do some reflecting on how we’ve grown. 2020 was a challenging year for many of us and we are thankful for the countless ways that the running community — more specifically, you as part of the Vacation Races community — has come together and stepped up to be more kind, united, and supportive.
In 2020, we decided as a company that we needed to do more to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) of different groups in the running and outdoor communities. This included things like showing more inclusive photos in our marketing materials, being proactive in partnering with various groups, and putting our money where our mouth is to support groups that are under-represented at our races and the national parks in general.
We are thankful that we were able to have a successful 2021 race season that allowed us to take meaningful steps toward improving. Through direct partnerships and grants, we were able to connect with and support four knock-out organizations last year and we can’t wait to continue these partnerships (and more) in 2022! As promised, here is a report on our efforts so far.
In the fall of 2020, we were introduced to Latinos Run founder, Maria Solis Belizaire. Maria shared with us the mission of Latinos Run — to help improve the physical and mental health of the Latino community — an example that she lives out by staying active in her own life.
“Latinos Run is a family affair,” Maria explains in an interview, “when you see us at races, we’ve got the mom, the dad, the kids, the cousins, the brothers…we’ve got the whole family there.” Everyone is part of this awesome community.
We knew that members of Latinos Run had participated in our events before, but realized that now was the time to officially partner with the organization to share our mutual love of running to promote healthy living. After some 2020 COVID delays, we officially kicked off our partnership in 2021 by inviting Latinos Run to be a part of our running club program where all members of the club can get a 15% discount on any domestic VR event. Further, we gave a handful of entries to Latinos Run to partially or fully sponsor members to run at our events. Latinas Run, the women’s specific group of Latinos Run, attended our Rocky Mountain Half Marathon in August with several teams, and one team placed 9th overall in the team category! We were very excited to see them!
Through Maria, we also had the fortune of meeting and collaborating with Black Men Run, and we are so honored to be working with them! Black Men Run (BMR) was founded by Jason Russell and Edward Walton about eight years ago to encourage Black men to use running as a way to improve mental and physical wellness.
The organization notes that over 44% of Black men aged 20 years and older have some type of cardiovascular disease and that heart disease is the number one cause of death for Black men. Moreover, the risk of a Black man having his first stroke is almost twice that of a white man. With these numbers, the organization says that the need for BMR is clear.
In April, we touched base with BMR and discussed the rising trend of trail running that we are seeing everywhere, and specifically how we can collectively make trail running more inclusive. Together, we have plans to continue efforts to make trail running a focus among the members of BMR. In September, we were able to officially host Black Men Run at the Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon & 5k in Tennessee.
Together with our sister company, Virtual Running Club, we also helped sponsor the Run for Justice hosted by Latinos Run and Black Men Run. The mission of Run for Justice is to increase health, wellness, and fitness in BIPOC communities. Run for Justice athletes help bring awareness to social justice issues and promote equity, fairness, diversity, human rights, and access to resources.
Virtual Running Club sponsored Latinos Run with a gift of $9,127 and Black Men Run with a gift of $9,503 to support each organization’s unique racial justice initiatives.
In addition to these wonderful partnerships, we were also able to support conservation programs that focus on engaging under-represented groups.
With our nonprofit, Wander Project, the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance was selected as a $5,000 grant awardee to help protect natural areas in Glacier National Park. In addition to the grant from Wander Project, we donated additional funds to support Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance.
Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance is a conservation organization located on the Blackfeet Reservation. The Alliance’s primary focus is on preserving Badger-Two Medicine, the land between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. This land is vital habitat for large animals like grizzly bears, lynx, mountain goats, and elk along with a plethora of smaller species and diverse plants. The land is also sacred to the Blackfeet people and is important for the preservation of their cultural homeland and origin story.
The grant will enable Glacier-Two Medicine to support a “Blackfeet Community Organizer” who can help connect, engage, and mobilize the community toward the permanent protection of Badger-Two Medicine. The organizer will allow the Alliance to work closely with Blackfeet tribal leadership and members to elevate Blackfeet voices, knowledge, and perspectives to smartly craft conservation efforts.
This past year, Vacation Races also donated $5,000 to the Saguaro NextGen Ranger Corps. The NextGen Ranger Corps is an internship program that is part of Friends of Saguaro, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the National Park Service.
The NextGen program provides young people with work and learning opportunities at Saguaro National Park. Specifically, the NextGen program tries to reach youth who come from under-represented communities with hopes that exposure to the outdoors will inspire an interest in the long-term preservation of our public lands.
Since its inception in 2015, the NextGen program has employed 75 diverse interns, of which, 95% go on to work in environmental fields. Twenty-five of these interns now work for federal land management agencies and an additional twelve work at Saguaro National Park!
Interns help Saguaro National Park expand research, control invasive species, and maintain trails and other infrastructure. Through this work, interns gain practical fieldwork experience and unique education programs.
The NextGen Ranger Corps program is just one of the many ways that Friends of Saguaro is working to promote diversity and inclusion through the lens of environmental stewardship. Other Friends of Saguaro initiatives allow students from underserved schools in Arizona to visit Saguaro National Park for place-based learning at no cost. This program annually supports 15,000 youth from 80 different schools.
We love the outdoors and we love our National Parks. And while we are all called to be good stewards of the land, we feel that it is also our responsibility to be good stewards of one another. To us, that looks like showing kindness to your fellow athletes at the finish line, it sounds like supportive and affirming words when others are sharing their stories, and it feels like a welcoming environment for all to run in and enjoy.
As a company, we continue to learn what it looks like to be a good neighbor and friend to all people who run with us. We look forward to being more active in our communities to help everyone feel welcome and included in our running community and to donate our time and money to organizations that are making a meaningful impact in these areas.