Bunny ears, shiny medals and spring colors galore. It is no wonder the Westerville Bunny Hop 5K is one of the most vibrant races in town this time of year.
Cheery hues are not the only reason this races stands out. The motivation for many to run, walk or skip more than three miles on Saturday, April 4 is the Westerville Parks Foundation.
The Westerville Parks Foundation was founded in 2000 as a non-profit organization to assist the Parks and Recreation Department in funding projects and improvements outside the annual city operating budget.
“The Parks Foundation is a huge asset to the Parks and Recreation Department. There are elements in the community that you may come across every day that wouldn’t exist without it,” said Westerville Parks and Recreation Director Randy Auler. “The Foundation has helped bring the Train Depot, Mural on the Path and various public art installations to life in the City.”
And that is just skimming the surface of the Parks Foundation’s impact. Scholarships are awarded each year to numerous residents-in-need to supplement the cost of classes, passes or daily admissions to the Westerville Community Center.
“These scholarships are a life changer for many people. In many cases, an individual or family would not be able to participate in the wonderful programs the Community Center offers without a little extra help,” said Lisa Kluchurosky, Chair of the Westerville Parks Foundation. “Scholarship recipients get the chance to connect socially and improve their physical and mental health.”
Scholarship recipients say the same thing. Although she wishes to remain anonymous, one older adult shared her story of receiving a Foundation grant with us. She applied for aid two years ago after experiencing a drop in income.
“My doctor said I needed to walk, but I needed to do it safely. I live on a brick street in Westerville with no sidewalks,” she explained. “I’m in my seventies and use a cane, so if I fell on the bricks, it would take several strong men to lift me up off the ground.”
After accepting the scholarship, she started utilizing the Senior Center bus as transportation to the Community Center. And her walking around the track began.
“I try to go four times a week when possible and my goal is a mile. I am the slowest walker out there, and some days when I’m not feeling well I can only get a few laps in. But that is okay; something is better than nothing,” she said.
The positive environment at the facility keeps her coming back day after day.
“From the staff to fellow track users, they’ll watch me and say keep it up, you are doing a great job. That gives me more motivation to continue.”
Those encouraging words have turned into many friendships over time.
“One gentleman and his wife are there often. He speaks French and so do I. Now he brings me his French magazines when he is done reading them. Another lady loves to quilt and that is something we share when we catch up. So many people are friendly and willing to open up,” she chimed.
She has also seen an improvement in her health.
“My doctors have been thrilled with my progress. My blood pressure has gone down and my muscles are looser. Just a few weeks ago, my sisters came to town. I had not been going to the Community Center for a bit because I was afraid of falling on the ice and my left knee started hurting. They pushed me to starting walking again; and I went to the track following their visit and that knee improved. I just needed to get moving and my body responded.”
Although some days may be harder than others, she values the chance to get moving.
“The opportunity to use the track means the world to me. I thoroughly enjoy the Community Center. All the other benefits are just icing on the cake,” she said.
One of the largest fundraisers to provide scholarship opportunities to residents like this is the Bunny Hop 5K. Now in its fifth year, the Bunny Hop has truly become a community event.
“The 5K has something for everyone, from families to kids and elite runners,” said Kluchurosky. “We try to make it fun yet still competitive. When volunteering at the event last year, I was struck by how energetic and uplifting the atmosphere was. It was a little chilly that morning, but people were genuinely happy to be there and having a good time.”
“This race really goes to the heart of what parks and recreation is all about. It actively brings the community together in a friendly environment to enjoy one of our parks and the trails for a good cause,” said Auler.