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Running with a By Emilia Buchanan I

t’s not uncommon to hear of Oklahomans who are struggling to keep their small towns thriving. Old buildings are crumbling, opportunities are dimin- ishing, and younger generations scatter elsewhere in attempts to find work.

As a response to this issue, many small towns have implemented Main Street programs to rebuild and revitalize their communities.

But Thomas, Okla., a town of roughly 1,300 people, decided to take a different approach when they took the community-improvement efforts into their own hands.

It all started with their baseball field. “A committee called the Summer Recreation Asso- ciation (SRA) had been raising money for several years to get our ball fields in shape and updated,” explains Kiwash Electric Co-op member Shae Mannering. “They had a large goal of getting lights for each of the fields; and while doing all they could to raise money, it was just a lot of money to raise.”

And that was where Mannering came into play. She NORTHEAST OKLAHOMA’S

common purpose: Local community runs for the benefit of all

and friends Annie Frymire, Kendra Jones and Rachel Dobbins developed a com- mittee, recruited several other

people and started tossing around ideas for fundrais- ers.

“They had already raised the majority of the money, but we saw the need to go in and help them finish raising the rest of the funds to complete the project,” Mannering says.

Mannering, the project’s committee head and a

run ner herself, decided a 5K fundraiser would be the perfect instrument to get the project rolling. “This type of thing is great for the community,” she says. “It’s a great thing to exercise, to move.” It also proved to be a great way to raise the extra funds needed. The 2010 5K run fundraiser was a success. More than 300 runners, ranging from ages five to 80, showed up from all over the state to run the 5K. Over $15,000 was raised, helping the SRA meet the $80,000 that was required to install stadium lighting at the Thomas baseball field.

The run was also met with an emotional response from the Thomas community.

“There were many people who had tears in their eyes when they saw the success of our run,” Mannering says.

And so last year’s effort turned out to be the catalyst for what had yet to come. Since the event was such a hit, they decided to make it an annual recurrence, with a new project every year. “Before we knew it, we were already planning the next fundraiser,” Mannering says. The title of this year’s endeavor: Project Playground. “We really want a new playground for our children,” Mannering says. “Thomas is a great place to raise a family. We want to have a nice area for kids to play. A lot of times people have to drive to Weatherford, so it will be nice to have something close.”

President of the Thomas Chamber of Commerce and 5K participant Matt Jackson agrees. “A new playground will be a place families can take

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