The Rockford Register Star’s Excelsior award is given to an organization for community service, excellence and making a difference in the Rock River Valley. Annie’s Locker is an Excelsior finalist!
How did Annie’s Locker come to be?
In 2007, a fellow runner and friend who was battling cancer asked our founder for one thing. “Please run for me until I can run again.” That request from our namesake Annie, was the seed that later grew into Running For Two (R42): running or exercising for someone who can’t. As the R42 community grew, the idea was born to do something to inspire people toward a healthier lifestyle. In 2008, Annie’s Locker (AL) became a reality with a goal of inspiring and helping those struggling find their “wings.”
- Our Mission – Inspiring and equipping people to lead healthier lives.
- Our Vision – Improved physical fitness can have a positive impact on all areas of people’s lives.
- Our Heart – Running for Two – Run for someone who can’t! Running for Two is about keeping a metaphorical candle burning for someone in need while running or exercising.
Annie’s Locker began as a passionate group of friends with a big dream and no money. Many of us have overcome difficult life challenges through working out and healthier living. We wanted to encourage others to do the same. Together, our family continues to grow, and continues its aspirations of transforming Rockford into a healthier city one person at a time.
Annie’s Locker is a non-profit organization that supports people in need of proper fitness gear and provides race scholarships in Rockford, Illinois. AL operates under the charter of Rockford Road Runners, a RRCA member club, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. In the past 5 years we have implemented SHARE-A-PAIR, an annual fund and gear drive that has provided gym shoes, socks, and other fitness gear items to groups of individuals in need. Running For Two is the inspiration behind every action we’re involved in.
Since our inception we have provided fitness gear, race entries, and support (R42) to thousands of people in the local community.
To date we have:
- Provided over 2,500 Rockford Public School children with sneakers so they can participate in gym class. Our goal is to create a habit of fitness in a community suffering from obesity. To fulfill the “inspire” part of our mission, students participated in the “Fit in 60” program along with a new program, “Pennies for Tennies.” The students collected coins to help purchase shoes for a school in even more need with Annie’s Locker matching their amount ($583.00). Shoes and letters of encouragement went to Leonardo De Gastelum School in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
- Continued to inspire. With every donation of gear, we include an effort to “inspire” our recipients by asking them to “run” for someone who can’t. Running For Two encourages people to run or perform another athletic activity while thinking of someone who is struggling.
- Provided cross-country uniforms to Kennedy Middle School students and attended their event to support them.
- Served Rockford Rescue Mission. AL has continuously reached out to help RRM residents by serving as personal mentors, joining them to encourage exercising, providing shoes and athletic gear, as well as race waivers. We raised funds and provided a fitness center ($7,000) so that residents could work out at all times. With the help of generous donors and a local fitness equipment store, Annie’s Locker was able to build a beautiful room with treadmills, weight equipment, mats and other pertinent equipment to help the residents grow stronger physically, which helps with their personal journey of recovery.
- Brought together graduates of the Rockford Rescue Mission, Meld and the YMCA. Once an individual graduates from these programs, the biggest challenges lie ahead. We identify this problem and have provided free three-month YMCA memberships to help them while they adjust back into our community. The completion of the three month attendance at the YMCA is rewarded by providing them a free race waiver to a race of choice.
- Awarded race sponsorships. Many women and men in the Rockford community have earned a race sponsorship by writing a self-reflective essay. Numerous individuals have trained and completed many races around town. We often meet them at their races wearing wings to cheer and run them into the finish line. Often they join us in wearing wings to help bring awareness to Annie’s Locker. We all are one on these days, volunteers, board members, recipients working together for one cause with no divisions!
What, or who, makes Annie’s Locker successful?
From the beginning, we have been blessed with a community that believes in what we are doing. We couldn’t have started without the help of the Rockford Road Runners, who allow us to serve as a committee under their non-profit status. Each year we reach further into the community to partner with individuals, churches, schools, non-profits and other businesses. Our successes are achieved because of the many volunteers and donors working alongside our passionate board of directors, who give so generously of their time.
We are an organization that brings the community together to help itself. Annie’s Locker has R42 and inspiration behind every action we are involved in. Although this positive energy may not be capable of physically being measured, anyone knows where Annie’s Locker has been involved is a group of “contagious” passionate people helping others in need. This energy resonates in everyone who has been involved in AL: from the children who received new gym shoes and cross-country uniforms, to the men and women residents of the Rockford Rescue Mission who enjoy working out in their new gym, to those who have received race waivers, to the endless list of random strangers who are going through tough times and need a pair of shoes and some encouragement. There is no limit to Annie’s Locker’s presence within our community and the energy emitting from it.
What is your organization’s biggest challenge?
Financial support. With no state or federal funding, we survive on annual donations which fluctuate year to year. Additionally, we always have a great need for advocates along with volunteers.
What is next on the horizon for the organization?
Every year we look for innovative ways to address the needs of our community and make connections that could change lives. Our most recent program called “Laces To Races” focuses on equipping individuals who have shown dedication and graduated from local organizations like Rockford Rescue Mission, Rosecrance, and MELD. We partnered with these organizations and the YMCA to provide shoes, Y memberships with a workout program to complete a 5K race, and a race waiver after completing the program. We hope to ignite a spark in our recipients, something that can keep growing long after our interaction with them. By sharing their stories and our stories, our goal is to inspire our recipients as well as our donors and volunteers
What have you done in order to continue to provide services during difficult economic times?
As a grassroots organization with no state or federal funding, we survive on donations from our constituents, which has forced us to get creative when funds are low. When economic times become challenging, the demand for our services increases. Every year we are amazed at our dedicated constituents and new donors who help make dreams come true. Sometimes the need is beyond our organization, but we take it to the community which finds a way to make it happen. Our organization works on passion which always seems to find a way to make it happen. The more seeds of hope we plant, the stronger and closer our community becomes during difficult times. We can overcome anything as a community if we are joined together.
Photo by Kayli Plotner, Staff Writer, Rockford Register Star