Running and riding for a good cause
Oct 02, 2018 10:52AM
● By J. Chambless
The kids race from the 2018 Beau Biden Foundation Run 5K/10K at Granogue. Every one of the trail races has a free kids race, and these races are usually some of the best races of the day.
By Kevin Barrett
For about eight years, Newark-based non-profit Velo Amis has been raising money for other non-profit groups, as well as people in need of support. The group often partners with businesses, including Dogfish Brewery. The two organizations are holding a bicycle tour of Southern Delaware on Oct. 20.
Newark resident Lauri Webber is one of the founders of the organization. She founded it along with Marc Vettori and Tom McDaniel who were all part of a local bicycle racing team. The team had been promoting mountain bike and cyclocross races for many years at the Granogue Estate in Montchanin, Del.
“The idea of starting a non-profit grew out of the simple act of collecting donations at one of our races for an organization called HERA. We had no connection to HERA, but a fellow cyclist from Philadelphia did,” Webber said. “It felt good to support something bigger than our bicycle race team.”
HERA, which stands for Health, Empowerment, Research, and Awareness, is an ovarian cancer foundation that seeks to eliminate the disease. Velo Amis has changed over the years, Webber said, but the goal of raising money for important non-profit organizations has not. Velo Amis is French for “Bicycle Friends” or “Friends of Bicycles.”
“My family had spent a year living in France, and bicycles were a large part of our experience,” Webber said. “We wanted a name that made people think a little and was somewhat unique.”
Webber is officially the treasurer of the organization’s Board of Directors. However, she says the group that manages the non-profit is small. In addition to Webber, there are five other people. One of them is Charlie Fitzgerald, who Webber describes as the logistics person who keeps her “sane and grounded.” The other leaders are Kristine Andres, Matt Thompson, and Felix Smith.
“We are such a small organization that we all wear many hats,” she said. “Most of our time is focused on promoting our cycling and running events. These events are our primary means of fundraising for Velo Amis.”
Over the years, the group has supported numerous organizations. To date, it has raised more than $150,000. It supports about a dozen organizations, including the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children and the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance.
“When we formed Velo Amis, one of our primary goals was to support other non-profits,” Webber said. “We kept our mission statement very general so that we could have flexibility in choosing who we support. We are a volunteer-run organization, and we value small, local organizations where we feel that our money is not being used primarily for administration of the non-profit. We are contacted by organizations, but we also reach out to organizations that align with our philosophy. As a group, we meet and discuss each request for funding. We partner or donate only to groups when we are unanimous in our decision.”
Since 2017, Velo Amis has been partnering with Paradocx Vineyards in Landenberg, Pa. According to Webber, Matt Thompson has a personal relationship with one of the founders, and Paradocx general manager Trish Brown reached out to Velo Amis in regard to a 5K.
Brown said that, prior to entering into a working relationship with Velo Amis, Paradocx had hosted a 5K to support a memorial scholarship honoring a local doctor. The fundraiser reached its final year, and that is when she contacted Velo Amis.
Working with Paradocx, Velo Amis organizes two events. One is a run called Grape Stomper 5K, held on the grounds of the vineyard. A race was held in October. The first one was held in 2017.
“The race was such a success that it again was organized for 2018. This event is fun, challenging, and enjoyed by participants and their families, as well as the Paradocx family,” Brown said. “Lauri, Matt, Charlie, and Kristine are impressively organized, as well as focused and driven, so their events are guaranteed to be successful.”
The Gravel Grape Crusher, which is a bicycle ride, was held the first Sunday of April of this year, and another will be held on April 13, 2019. Last year, the ride benefited the Police Unity Tour, which supports the families of law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty.
There will be two routes for next year’s event – a 50K and 100K. The race will begin and end at Paradocx Vineyard, and bicyclists will travel through many areas, including White Clay Creek, Fair Hill Park, and the Newark Reservoir area.
Velo Amis has been working with Dogfish Head Brewery, which is based in Milton, Del., for a few years. The ride will be held on Oct. 20 is the Dogfish Head IPA, which stands for I Pedal A-Lot. The ride will begin and end at the brewery. The funds raised will benefit the Urban Bike Project of Wilmington, and Sussex Cyclists.
Mark Carter, who handles community outreach for Dogfish Head Brewery, said that he met Lauri years ago at a cycle race during the early days of Velo Amis. The brewery also supported several non-profits in the area where Velo Amis puts on their events. He learned they were putting on a trail run series.
“We have a lot of trail runners,” Carter said. “We like to support an active lifestyle, and one thing led to another, and we started working together through the trail run series.”
Carter said there are a couple of reasons that Dogfish is happy to work with Velo Amis. “They put on a great event,” he said. “When you ride a long bike ride or you do a trail run, you want a well-marked course, and they do a great job of route management. When you do a lot of these, you know the groups that do it well and those that don’t. These guys do a great job.”
Another reason Dogfish is happy to continue the relationship, Carter said, is because the group really focuses on the activities and the community.
“They’re runners, bikers, and outdoors folk themselves, so they’re passionate about the activities,” Carter said. “The premise of the group, though, is that they are tied to causes that are really great. Each trail run benefits a different nature preserve or area, and that’s pretty cool.”
Carter also said that he thinks the routes created by the brewery’s association with Velo Amis are particularly interesting.
“Everyone comes down to the beach, and they don’t realize that there’s this whole western side of the state that is really beautiful to explore,” he said. “We have created some really fun routes that take folks to some interesting cultural and historical spots around southern Delaware.”
Kristine Andres, who attended the University of Delaware as an undergraduate is pursuing her Master of Business Administration from the institution, is one of the small group of people who manage Velo Amis. In particular, she is involved in marketing and managing social media. She met Lauri Webber through Lauri’s son, Jeffrey, one of her childhood friends.
She contacted Webber when someone she went to high school with, Enoch Lee, died in the fall of 2014 in a car accident. Both Andres and Lee attended Newark High School. Andres wanted to put on a run in honor of Lee.
“We had a lot of the same friends from high school,” Andres said. “He also volunteered much of his free time back to the Newark community and even internationally. He was an all-around great guy.”
After she graduated from the University of Delaware, she got more involved in Velo Amis. Webber says that Andres is critical to the organization. Kristine does all the social media and marketing and enjoys it,” Webber said. “She keeps us on task.”
Andres said that it has been a lot of fun being a part of Velo Amis for the last few years and seeing how it has grown.
“It is such a small organization, but we have gotten so much help from so many people,” Andres said. “We get volunteers at every event we hold. It is so nice to see people come together for no other reason than to help.”
Webber said that family members of the small group that runs Velo Amis are also very important to the non-profit. Her daughter, Megan Bahnson, who is attending the University of Delaware, has been volunteering since she was only 7 years old. She now gets her friends from the university to participate in events and volunteer.
Webber also said her husband, Brian Bahnson, who is the chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Delaware, always finds the time to help Velo Amis do whatever is needed.
Similarly, Matt Thompson’s three sons all volunteer and participate. Thompson, along with Felix Smith, manages graphics and design for the organization. “We couldn’t do it without our family’s support,” Webber said. Charlie Fitzgerald’s family business, Grass Management donates resources that are critical to Velo Amis’s race production.
While the organization has been around for about eight years, Webber has been organizing races for well over a decade. She attributes the longevity and success of the non-profit to the fact the group is putting on top-notch events that they would want to participate in.
“It is just our way of giving back and doing a bit of good,” she said. “When people do our events, they really enjoy them, and that makes you feel good. We get people out and exercising. We feel like we’re giving back.”
On Nov. 2, Velo Amis will be holding Ghosts of Granogue for the second year. The event is held at night, which is unusual. It is also a relay race involving both running and cycling. “The course is shared by runners and bicycles and is through very dark woods,” Webber said. “The final leg of the race is a pumpkin hill climb, where teammates need to carry a pumpkin up a brutally steep hill to the finish. Both teammates must finish together. The catch is that you bring your own pumpkin. It is weighed in, and you receive five seconds off your time per pound of pumpkin.”
Participants are allowed mechanical assistance as long as it is human powered. “Last year’s winners were a father and son team with a 35-pound pumpkin that they transported on a dolly,” Webber said.
For more information on Velo Amis, visit http://veloamis.org.