The first time Ronnie Schwartz brought a running group to Memphis for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, the 120 runners from central Louisiana weren’t there to fundraise. For the team, it was just another race.
Then they ran through the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital where they were celebrated by cheering patients, families and hospital staff, all grateful to the participants in the hospital’s largest single-day fundraising event.
On that day, the St. Jude mission became Ronnie’s passion.
“If you can get somebody to run through that campus one time, they’re hooked,” Ronnie said.
Now approaching its seventh year of participation, Ronnie’s team, the CenLa Runners Heroes, will have raised more than $1 million to support the work of St. Jude by Dec. 2, this year’s race day.
Since that first run, his teams have varied in size, from as many as 60 to as few as 30. Size isn’t important. Commitment is.
• Start with a run/walk group. Walkers finish the marathon every year and the group can help with training.
“The key is to try to find people that believe in St. Jude. And they are out there, you’ve just got to find them,” Ronnie said.
• And leaders must be able to tell the St. Jude story.
Ronnie doesn’t have a child who was treated at St. Jude, but like so many in his community, he has friends whose children were patients. And that’s probably true no matter where you live.
Ronnie’s not shy. He’s contacted local news outlets to let them know that he’s recruiting.
People need to know the St. Jude mission: to advance cures and means of prevention for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Families will never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food – so they can focus on helping their child live.
• Look for creative ways to raise funds that suit different interests. The team hosted a golf tournament, was invited to fundraise as part of a rodeo and sponsors the Red Wagon 5K and Wagon Pull. (The symbolic red wagons are used throughout the hospital to transport children.)
Ronnie has a team member whose daughter is a swimmer. She’s having a swim-a-thon to meet her fundraising goals.
• Ask friends on social media and contacts in your phone to give, he said.
Big donations are welcomed, but no donation is too small.
“I’m not going to turn down $2 or $5. It all adds up,” Ronnie said.
Ronnie has raised more than $250,000 individually for St. Jude and was the presented with the 2022 St. Jude Hero Among Us Award, recognition of a selfless champion for St. Jude kids. And in 2020, he was presented with the St. Jude Hero of the Year Award for his overall support of the mission.
He’s not a rich man surrounded by wealthy associates. (Although, a young boy did empty out his piggy bank to donate to St. Jude.)
Ronnie is the athletic club director at a Christian university in a city of about 45,000. He’s made it clear to his employer that raising money for St. Jude is a priority in his life.
Ronnie has always been athletic and years ago participated in as many as 15 races a year.
“I don’t do that anymore,” he said. “I do one race and 100% of my focus is on St. Jude.”