Early in her process learning to live with grief, Susan Holt decided on one thing: She didn't just want to remember that her daughter Grace had died. She wanted for herself — and others — to remember that she had lived.
It was a matter of weeks after Grace's unexpected death by suicide for Susan to be sure that she wanted to honor her teenage daughter's life in an ongoing way. It was a matter of months, however, before she decided how.
Her good friend Lisa Hutchins suggested holding a 5 kilometer run in Grace's name. Susan wasn't sure what she wanted to raise money for, until an evening when she was out running — an activity that she says helps her think clearly. The idea came to have the proposed run to help send students to summer camps.
Susan says it was the first idea she had that aligned with what was important to her daughter. Camps had been a source of joy and a creative outlet for Grace growing up.
"It came to me that she was lucky in the sense that we would allow her and could send her to these summer camps that she wanted to go to," Susan says. "And there's so many kids that don't have that opportunity. It just seemed the natural thing."
That was the birth of an event that will mark its second year on Jan. 20: the Run With Grace. All the proceeds garnered by participant fees, donations and sponsorships fund scholarships for Medford students in fifth through eighth grades to attend summer camps that they would not be able to afford otherwise. In 2017 the Grace and Kindness Scholarship Fund enabled 28 students to attend summer camps across Oregon.
Susan, who has taught health and physical education at Hedrick Middle School for 26 years, invites teachers and coaches to nominate students for the scholarships in March. The criteria she looks for, she says, are simple: financial need and, in memory of Grace, a kind heart.
Last year, the event raised around $20,000, allowing students to participate in various camps through Southern Oregon University, including its Youth Academy. The Academy offers talented and motivated students opportunities to take various "courses" throughout the week, ranging in topic from fencing to photography to Star Trek's impact on culture and science. Other students attended art or cooking camps.
Becky Plankenhorn, a science teacher at Hedrick, says the first thing her student who went did in the fall was to come tell her about their experience.
"They were excited to be a part of a community of kids with similar interests and to partake in a class/camp to further their education in their interest or passion," Plankenhorn wrote in an email.
Nearly a year after the first run, Susan holds up a handmade card from a student who is an English-Language-Learner, thanking her for giving him "the summer of a lifetime."
"I'm never going to heal, obviously," she says. "But this helps with healing. Grace was a gift, and she loved to give gifts. She would love this."
It's Grace's spirit of kindness and generosity that Susan returns to when talking about the Run With Grace and its other aspects. She also incorporated an activity painting rocks with the words "Run With Grace" on one side and messages or art on another. Last year, she encouraged participants to leave the message-bearing rocks somewhere. She says one rock was left in Italy; another was found in Prineville.
Susan says she wants this year's run, coming two years after Grace's death, to include more celebration than last year. She is also expanding dialogue about suicide awareness and how to support loved ones who may be struggling in relative silence. She describes Grace's death as "shocking," and that's also why kindness is the theme of the event.
"Because you never really know what someone is going through," Susan says.
Interested runners, volunteers, donors or sponsors can connect with the event at http://runwithgrace.org. The night before the Saturday run, organizers will hold a sign-up and pre-run celebration event from 5 to 7 p.m. (time corrected) at Rise Coffeehouse, located at 1123 E. Jackson St. Runners can register on-site at Griffin Creek Elementary School Jan. 20, but organizers ask that registration be completed online before then if possible.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.