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Fundraiser runs into new districts

Third-annual Tonkin fundraiser expands, aims to top last year's $20,000 total donations


It’s not that Michelle Tonkin doesn’t like cookies. She does like them — a lot. What she doesn’t like is that when students sell them to raise money for school activities and clubs, only a portion of the sales price goes to that activity or club.

So, when a child’s classmate approached Tonkin a few years back, asking her to buy cookie dough for around $20, she refused. Instead, she told the student, she would donate directly to the program. She took satisfaction in knowing that every penny of her $40 donation was going to support the program.

“We have all our teachers and coaches, and they’re out there trying to raise money. I’d rather have them teaching,” she said. “The kids are out there selling the cookies and pizza dough. I don’t want it. But if I don’t buy it, I’m not supportive.”

From that cookie experience, a big idea was born.

“I want to support the kids. There’s got to be an easier way,” Tonkin said.

by: FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Last May, Michelle Tonkin delivered checks worth more than $20,000 to West Linn-Wilsonville School groups. Shown here are Michelle Tonkin and Superintendent Bill Rhoades, seated. Standing, from left, Wilsonville High School's athletic director, Dennis Burke, Music and Art Partner's treasurer Patti Millage, and the WL-WV Education Foundation's president, Jay Puppo.In June 2012, she put her idea to the test, inviting the communities of West Linn and Wilsonville to sign up for the Tonkin For the Love of Schools closed course, chip-timed 10K and 5K run/walk. It was a fun run with a twist: 100 percent of entry fees would go directly to a school support group.

That first year, the run raised about $5,000 for high school athletic funds, the West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation and the district’s music and art support group, Music and Art Partners.

Building on that start, the race grew. Entry fees totaling $20,291 were split between the education foundation ($6,516), Wilsonville High School’s athletic fund ($5,441), Three Rivers Charter School ($4,516), MAP ($2,776) and West Linn High School’s athletic fund ($1,040) in 2013.

Because Michelle Tonkin is not the type to be satisfied with success, this year’s run will be even bigger.

“We added seven school districts and 10 different high schools,” she said.

This year, runners, walkers and school supporters from Canby, Clackamas, Lakeridge, Rex Putnam, Parkrose, Milwaukie, Sherwood, West Linn, Wilsonville and Woodburn are invited to participate. Some of those schools and districts approached Tonkin. Others were approached by her.

“It’s hard to explain it,” she said of her fundraiser. “People don’t believe it. They say, ‘What’s in it for you?’ I get to give you money! ... They wonder what my motives are. ‘Why are you helping us? We’re not your school.’”

Her answer to those questions is simple.

“If we have good schools, it’s better for all of us,” she said.

Tonkin, a Wilsonville resident, is also a true believer in public education. A graduate of public school in Beaverton, she started her children’s education in a private school and switched them to public school only after moving to the city.

“I like the sense of community you have. You know the kids who ride the bus,” she said. “I think our public schools are really important. You get a great education. You learn a lot from going to school with the people you live with.”

by: FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Michelle Tonkin has added even more schools to the For the Love of Schools fundraising event to be held June 1 in Wilsonville.Tonkin has ideas for this year’s run that she hopes will build that sense of community. For one thing, she has made it easy for community members to sponsor a teacher’s entry fee. In West Linn and Lake Oswego, you can donate at the cash register when you shop at Thriftway. That’s on top of the free entries for schools superintendent, principals and athletic directors.

“It’s a painless donation,” Tonkin said.

She is also striving to involve city employees. This year, she has added a City Council Challenge to the event.

“The city council that creates the most entries, I’ll put $500 to their school fund,” Tonkin said. “If you get the mayor, I’ll put another $100 in.”

In West Linn, City Councilwoman Jenni Tan was eager to accept that challenge.

“Last year, we were able to put together a small team,” she said. “This year, I’d like to do the same but get more employees and staff involved. ... Ideally, maybe the whole council will be out there.”

Tan herself plans to run, along with her son, her mother, her mother-in-law and her husband if his obstetrical career doesn’t interfere that day, she said.

“The fact that 100 percent of the registration fees goes to school, it’s just amazing,” Tan said. “It’s just a win-win. It’s healthy, it’s fun, it’s just so positive. This kind of event gets the whole community behind it.”

School groups were starting to get behind it, too.

Carey Russell, a parent at Stafford Primary School in West Linn, is the co-chair of the school’s running club, Stafford Striders.

“With every communication I send out, I’m plugging the run,” she said. “I love Michelle’s vision. I just love it. Especially as I’m seeing the (education foundation’s) Count Me In signs, that was my latest plug. ... You can do the fun run, and your money will go to the foundation — and you get a T-shirt and medal on top of it.”

The foundation’s president, Jay Puppo, also supports the run.

“If we can get one student per classroom to participate in the Tonkin run, that will earn about $17,000,” he said. “Four per classroom is about $70,000. We’re very excited that the Tonkin family has underwritten the event. They do all the work. All we have to do is get people there to run.”

The run’s online signup at fortheloveofschools.com makes it easy for participants to decide where their registration fees will go. Each school and district has different options, focusing on academics, athletics and arts programs.

Tonkin urges participants to use the Comments box to further direct their donation.

“You can sign up through MAP and say, ‘I want this to go to Soul’d Out.’ If you do the athletic fund, you can say ‘Girls soccer’ or ‘Boys tennis,’” she said. “Tell me where you want the money to go. If it’s a group or organization the school supports, I can probably get the money there.”

Entry fees vary, from $15 for runners 14 and under, to $55 for the half marathon. Walkers are welcome too. If you bring a stroller, you will be asked to stay toward the back of the crowd at the starting line, to reduce the risk of injury.

Everyone who finishes will receive a medal, donated by Gary and Jason LaPointe, owners of Wilsonville Chevron.

The run is being catered by No Ka Oi Catering Company, the official caterer for big runs like Hood to Coast. Chef Adam Kekahuna is a West Linn resident and parent to two young daughters. He is one small part of the strong community that Tonkin has pulled together to make her vision reality.

With the race just weeks away, she already is thinking of ways to make the next year’s event better.

“I’m fortunate that my family will support this,” she said. “I’m sure there’s a limit. I’m just not there yet.”


By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 112
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