A couple of years ago, two WaterOne employees noticed that their water tower is exactly 3.1 miles from Olathe’s water tower — the distance of a 5K.
WaterOne Communications specialist, Kelly Fry, had been looking for a way to celebrate and raise awareness for National Drinking Water Week when she and her colleague noticed the measurement.
Fry thought a 5K would be the perfect activity — and even better, it would allow a partnership with Olathe’s water district.
That was the start of the Tower2Tower 5K, which took place in early May and raised $7,123 for a nonprofit called Water for People.
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Water for People, founded by former Black & Veatch vice president Wayne Weiss, provides clean water and sanitation systems to 4 million people in nine countries and is funded by 50 volunteer groups across the United States and Canada.
The nonprofit grew from the American Water Works Association, of which WaterOne is a member. Fry says that’s how they chose to raise money for Water for People.
Vicky Andersen, community engagement manager at Water for People, says that in the ’90s the AWWA thought, “ ‘We’ve done a pretty great job here in North America of having a good water and sanitation system. Now we need to make a difference globally.’ So they had started Water for People internally and in 1991 we became our own non-profit.”
When WaterOne approached Andersen two years ago, she linked them with the Kansas Water for People volunteer group. She said that while businesses don’t typically raise funds for the group, she was excited about WaterOne’s interest.
he 50 volunteer groups raise $1.6 million annually through 5Ks, beer and wine tastings, galas, and concerts — and tend to compete with each other. The group in Indiana raises more than $100,000 in a single concert every year — but the $7,000 raised by WaterOne is more representative of what one event typically pulls in.
One-hundred percent of the registration fees for the Tower2Tower 5K were donated to Water for People, Fry says. That’s mostly thanks to local sponsors Black & Veatch and Burns & McDonnell.
The 5K is a popular fundraising platform and Water for People has seen more and more volunteer groups use them in recent years.
“I think it’s because (5Ks are) really interactive events that the whole family can be a part of. It’s not just after one niche group; everyone can participate,” Andersen says.
WaterOne has already begun planning next year’s 5K, also to take place during National Drinking Water Week.
The 2017 5K brought in 420 registrants, up from last year’s 361, and raised $1,000 more. Fry says that participants received refillable water bottles and the message that in Johnson County people don’t need to drink bottled water.
“The whole point is to hit that message home: drink tap and bring tap everywhere with you,” Fry says.