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[caption id="attachment_30608" align="alignleft" width="108" caption="Eunice Valentine"][/caption]

With companies operating leaner and employees being asked to do more with less, keeping morale high can be a challenge.  Many organizations have found that by participating in local events that help others is a great way to foster teamwork while improving our community.   For the past three decades, The Human Race has provided such an opportunity for local businesses to get involved, make a difference, and bring employees together in a meaningful and powerful way.

2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the Human Race, the largest collaborative community fundraiser nationwide. No other event raises so much money for so many nonprofits in Sonoma County.  No other event fosters employee teamwork and boosts morale.

This is a truly remarkable celebration of community, and a rare opportunity for businesses and nonprofits to come together for a common cause, which also is fun and festive. As you may know, Sonoma County ranks No. 1 in volunteerism statewide, with 39 percent of our citizens volunteering; showing how much our community values being involved with important charitable causes.

Since the beginning, the Volunteer Center has successfully operated the Human Race as a community service, recruiting hundreds of volunteers needed to plan and orchestrate the Race. With over 8,000 runners and walkers, last year’s Race raised over $700,000 to support more than 450 non-profits.  Non-profits recruit teams of runners and walkers, who in turn sign up thousands of donors to support the Race and its participating organizations.  This year, we hope to hit $1 million with greater community participation and more business involvement.

One of the Human Race’s consistent supporters and corporate leader, Exchange Bank’s President Bill Schrader, explains how participating benefits both the bank and the community:

“ In many ways the volunteer work we provide in the community is the glue that truly brings our Exchange Bank team together.  Going back to 1890, (volunteerism) has been a part of our rich legacy and remains a defining part of who we are.  It has been a culture that encourages all of us to give back what we call our 3 T's -- our time, our talent and our treasury.   This involvement always points us in the right direction -- our north star, as our employees work together towards a common goal, knowing that it will make a difference in the lives of people in their neighborhoods.”

About sixty days prior to the Human Race, department and branch teams at the bank meet to begin plotting their fundraising activities,  i.e. cookie and candy sales, baked potato lunches.  Fund raising activities are communicated through the bank’s daily internal web newsletter, branch personnel are allowed to post their Human Race Pledge sheets to give their customers the opportunity to pledge funds, employees are encouraged to wear their Human Race T-shirts every Friday up until the day of the event.

“We encourage employees to have fun, to be creative and to make a positive difference,” says Mr. Schrader.

This year, more than any year in recent history, the economy has severely hurt many local nonprofits, curtailing their efforts to provide vitally needed services to those in our community who are less fortunate. For many agencies, the Human Race is their only annual fundraiser – providing critically needed operating funds.

These agencies often don’t have the staff or resources to put on large special events like dinner dances and fancy auctions  –  the Human Race is what they depend on each year to help bring in needed donations to run their organizations.

Business sponsors of the Human Race receive enormous goodwill and important recognition for their support. And this year, we expect the participation level and visibility to be greater than ever due to our 30th anniversary.  We hope you will consider joining the Human Race – not only to benefit the community, but to inspire teamwork and boost morale in your organization.

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Eunice Valentine is executive director of the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County.