By Steve Guntli
For 28 years, Blaine High School students have traveled to Washington, D.C. to learn about government and democracy with the Close Up program. This year, they’ve decided to use the trip as an opportunity to give back to the community.
Students in Dave Fakkema’s U.S. History class at Blaine High School are organizing a 5k run/walk event on Saturday, November 22. The run has a dual purpose: to raise money for students to participate in the Close Up program, and to raise funds for the Blaine Food Bank.
The Close Up program is a nonprofit, nonpartisan program that teaches students about democracy and the importance of civic participation. The program began in the mid-1970s, and Blaine High School has been participating since 1986. Fakkema has been leading the trips since 1993, and is a big supporter of the program.
“I fell in love with their philosophy,” he said. “It’s not just a sightseeing trip; it’s about education first. I’m trying to get these kids to understand what they believe and why they believe it, and to expand their horizons as much as they can.”
This year’s trip is scheduled for March 28 through April 3. Fakkema designs much of his course curriculum around the trip, so the students who attend will be prepared to ask questions and think critically about larger issues. Students get the chance to visit memorials, speak with policymakers from both sides of the political spectrum and take part in a large mock congress with other students from around the country.
The trip typically costs about $2,000 per student, which includes airfare, food and lodging. Because students and their families are responsible for the costs, the trip is voluntary, and on average Fakkema brings between 10 and 15 students each year. The school doesn’t normally hold fundraisers in support of the Close-Up trip.
“We could have had a lot of little fundraisers throughout the year, but we didn’t want to nickel and dime the town, which has been so awesome when it comes to supporting the school,” Fakkema said.
This year, though, Fakkema spoke with some of his students’ parents about the possibility of raising money for students who couldn’t afford the trip. One parent, Randy Bellville, suggested taking the fundraiser one step further by raising money for both the trip and the Blaine Food Bank.
Bellville, the father of one of Fakkema’s students, proposed his idea after reading a letter to the editor in the October 23 edition of The Northern Light. The letter, written by Blaine Food Bank director Jerry Bladies, told of an anonymous donor who has offered to match funds to the food bank for any donations up to a total of $25,000 raised before December 19.
Bellville saw this as an opportunity to not only raise money for students but to have a positive impact on the community at large.
The idea took off, and students have been eager to participate. Even students who aren’t planning on going on the trip have volunteered to help, Fakkema said.
“This is all about helping the community,” he said. “Even those who aren’t going on the trip see that, and they see the opportunity to help some of their classmates make the trip.
Participants will use pledge sheets to gather donations from people around the community. Students going on the trip will be running or walking to raise money for themselves, and all other participants will put their proceeds into a general fund, which will supplement the costs of the trip for others. Fifty percent of all the money raised will go directly to the food bank.
This is Fakkema’s first time organizing an event like this, but he hopes it can become a yearly event.
The students will be holding the race at Blaine High School at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 22. A group met November 12 to finalize the details of where and when the race will start. Visit thenorthernlight.com for up-to-date information on the race.
For more details, or to make a donation, contact Fakkema at email@example.com.
ED. NOTE: The original story stated that the race would take place at the BP Highlands, but the venue has since changed.