The “fun” sometimes gets left out of fundraising.

However, the East High School PTA has found a way to enjoy its yearly campaign to pay for everything from computers to books to tennis shoes for students.

“It really is just a fun event,” said Katy Christiansen, who helped create the Running of the Leopards 5K three years ago as a way to help the Salt Lake high school. “East High is the most diverse high school in the state with over 50 languages spoken in the home. Over half of the student body is on fee waivers and school lunch programs. The PTA provides money to fill the great diversity of needs in our school.”

Last year that meant $9,000 that helped pay for computer upgrades, a new stage curtain, dozens of students to take a tour of college campuses, ESL books, and basketball shoes for athletes who couldn’t afford them.

Although there are various ways to help students, sometimes it comes down to funding.

“Time helps,” Christiansen said. “Volunteers help. But sometimes money is what helps.”

The 5K began as a way to raise awareness about health and, at the time, the principal lost more than 100 pounds leading up to the first race. The school sent buses into neighborhoods for any students who wanted to run, and the PTA hosted training runs in order to entice students to participate.

“We pay for all the students to run,” Christiansen said. “Last year we had 1,000 people and 350 were students.”

One way the PTA inspires participation in a sport many teenagers shun is by creating a number of other competitions and contests within the school. Clubs such as the National Honor Society and sports teams such as the men’s and women’s basketball teams are recognized for getting the most participants to compete in the race.

“We make it a school-wide event,” Christiansen said. “We have a lot of fun side things going on.”

The PTA also educates students on how healthy lifestyle choices provide more options.

“It’s raised health awareness for the kids,” Christiansen said. “We try to get them in shape so they can participate. We try to eliminate all the excuses (expense and rides). We received a grant from the National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Program.”

Above all, the 5K allows the school to connect with the surrounding community that supports the school. While any organization can ask for money, a 5K race gives back with prize money and racing shirts for all participants. It also brings people from all backgrounds and abilities together.

Organizers have changed the course to start at This is the Place Heritage Park, although participants can park at the school and ride buses to the starting line of the downhill course. Running downhill makes it “the fastest 5K in Utah,” said Christiansen. “The men’s record is 13:57. A lot of people run it because they want a (personal record).”

Mayor Peter Corroon will start the race – and then run the course – for the third time. Next year the event will feature a one-mile run, which organizers believe will be popular as it’s such a fast course. Information about the race and registration can be found at RunningOfTheLeopards5k.com.

Running of the Leopards

What: East High Schools annual fundraiser

When: March 26, 8:30 a.m.

Where: This Is the Place Heritage Park

More information: RunningOf TheLeopards5k.com

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com

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