For the sixth straight year, Connecticut teachers came together in Hartford to test their strength and endurance, support one another, and—perhaps, most importantly—make a meaningful contribution to those in the education community who are struggling and striving. More than a dozen early-career and veteran educators from throughout the state ran or volunteered for Team CEF in the 2019 Hartford Eversource Marathon, to benefit the Connecticut Education Foundation (CEF).
“This is such a near and dear cause for so many of our members,” says CEF President Tom Nicholas, noting that since its inception in 1991, the Foundation has distributed more than a million dollars in assistance and scholarships to students and teachers in need. Through the Holiday Bear Project (see page 3), Children’s Fund, and Boland Fund, CEF supports children whose families are experiencing financial difficulties, as well as teachers facing extraordinary hardships. The Foundation also provides scholarships to high school and college students planning teaching careers.
“We are proud to have logged our sixth year as an official charity of the marathon,” says Nicholas, “a truly energizing and positive event that allows us to raise some of the much-needed funds to help Connecticut’s students, educators, and aspiring teachers.
CEA Secretary Stephanie Wanzer, who has been running for Team CEF since the beginning, has raised almost $7,000 over those years.
A special education teacher with Cooperative Education Services, Wanzer recalls, “We had a student whose state and federal medical resources had been fouled up, and he wasn’t able to use any insurance for medication he needed badly. The family was using their own money for this one prescription. CEF was able to help get them over the hump until his insurance was reinstated. The thank-you letter from the family would bring tears to your eyes. That’s why I do this every year—to give a hand to the families who may need a little help from their CEA friends.”
While in some years she’s had a trainer, Wanzer says, “These past couple of years it’s all about fingers crossed and many laughs with my friend and fellow teacher Katy Gale to get over the finish line!” Wanzer and Gale compete each year to see who can raise the most for Team CEF.
Besides running past CEA’s building at the starting line, Wanzer says the best part of the race is crossing the finish line (“Just kidding—not really!”) and “showing how CEA members go above and beyond for the students of Connecticut.”
Setting a goal—and an example
Running the Hartford Eversource half-marathon for the ninth time—and for Team CEF every year since it became an official race charity—Darien teacher Katy Gale says, “I’m always excited to raise funds for CEF, because I know that the money goes directly to public school children, teachers, and aspiring teachers who are in real need. They are identified by public school teachers who know their hardships. I think with some charities you may not know where the money goes, but with CEF you always do. This makes a real difference to help families through difficult stretches.”
A teacher at Hindley Elementary School, Gale says, “My message to students is about being finishers and overcoming any obstacles that come up. In the races I run, there will always be obstacles—weather, cramps, shoe or clothing problems—but you have to push through them. In our fifth-grade classroom, we study themes in the books we read, and we try to relate them to life. Many characters in literature face obstacles and struggle to overcome them. Finishing the half-marathon is a perfect connection.”
Though this marks Gale’s twentieth half-marathon, she notes that it’s never too late to get in the race.
“I didn’t start running until I was 50 years old.”
Back on her feet
For Schaghticoke Middle School physical education teacher Eileen Holden, this year’s race also marked a personal milestone. Not only was it her first time running for the Connecticut Education Foundation, but it was a return to an activity people thought she might never be capable of again.
Nine years ago, Holden underwent a fairly routine surgery, after which she developed an infection. Though she sought treatment multiple times, the infection persisted.
“Over the course of a year, doctors couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it,” she recalls. “Amputation of my left leg was discussed a few times.”
Twelve surgeries and many years later, she was finally cleared to run again.
“Although it’s tough sometimes, I’ve worked with my physical therapist to minimize the pain as much as possible. Completing this half-marathon was very important to me so that I could be an example to my students and others of how you can overcome obstacles.”
Indeed, many teachers over the years have used their training and race experience as a tool in the classroom to stress the importance of healthy lifestyles and inspire students to set goals and work hard to accomplish them.
“As a P.E. teacher,” says Holden, “I find it very important to practice what you preach. I used this race—the training I put into it and the event itself—as a motivational tool for my students.”
Holden, who teamed up with her school nurse to run for Team CEF in the half-marathon this year, said she learned about the charitable event in the CEA Advisor.
East Hampton Education Association President Neil Shilansky, a longtime Team CEF runner and the chair of CEF’s Edward J. Boland Fund, took a unique approach to fundraising and spreading the word this year with #RedforEd Friday.
“EHEA’s building reps distributed RedforEd T-shirts to interested teachers who didn’t already have one, and we encouraged our members to wear them to school and make donations to Team CEF,” he says.
The Boland Fund assists active CEA members experiencing extraordinary or catastrophic financial situations, and Shilansky exceeded his $500 personal fundraising goal this year, raising an estimated $600 to benefit the fund.
Helping hands for tired feet
A race of this magnitude would not be possible without the vast efforts of volunteers who rise before dawn to ensure that everything runs smoothly, start to finish.
“For Team CEF, volunteers are the heart of the day’s events,” says Nicholas. “They are there to help with logistics and planning, and they ensure that runners are nourished and hydrated.”
Retired teacher Karen DiMenna, who volunteered for the first time two years ago, was happy to return this year to the food tent to hand out items to runners after they complete the race.
“Volunteering is an enjoyable way to spend an autumn day and raise money for a great charitable foundation…without running the race!” she explains.
Westport literacy coach Faith Sweeney, who teaches at Coleytown Elementary School, has volunteered for the past five years in a variety of ways, including setting up paper goods to speed up the line in the food tent, serving food to race finishers, assisting with the relay station, cheering on participants, handing out water, and helping runners get to their next location.
“Anything to support CEF,” she says, “because I know the funds raised will help students in need and also go toward scholarships for future teachers. I encourage my teacher friends to volunteer because it’s teambuilding, and they will be helping Connecticut’s public school children.”
There’s still time to help CEF reach its annual fundraising goal! Even if you weren’t able to participate in this year’s race, visit cea.org/cef to lend your support.