SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A dozen runners made their way 437 miles across the state for an inaugural event to raise money for the Helpline Center.
The 437 Project started as an idea a year ago by Sioux Falls Mayor Paul Tenhaken.
“I started to see the challenges that people were experiencing coming out of the pandemic with their mental health. I had a couple friends take their lives with suicide. And all of those things combined, we need to raise awareness, raise funds, see how we can help this topic in our state become more talked about,” Tenhaken said.
The run started Thursday morning in Belle Fourche stopping in numerous communities across South Dakota before ending near the Levitt Shell in Downtown Sioux Falls.
It was a relay-style run where all 12 runners would take a turn every 10 miles or so.
“Just the experience, stories that we heard, it made it that much more special. I was definitely reflecting on that when we were out there. The stars were so bright and it was beautiful. I was counting shooting stars. I don’t know if anyone could ever have that opportunity. And I just was in that moment able to think about the stories that were shared and it was just truly special,” runner Greg Koch said.
“There’s not one of these twelve runners that didn’t cry at least once during this week from conversations we had with people in the community, letters that we got, emails that were sent to us, because I think when you have an event like this, it tells people, ‘hey, it’s OK to talk about this topic,’ and the stories just start to come out,” Tenhaken said.
“Just want to encourage people to be physically active, and it’s OK to ask for help. Whether it’s asking for help for just, you know, routine things or just asking for help when you really need for help,” runner Allison Weber said.
The event raised over $120,000 for The Helpline Center, and CEO Janet Kittams says it is the single largest donation she has ever seen for the non-profit.
“I’m almost speechless because it was such an amazing amount that they raised to support the work of The Helpline Center, and we just are so grateful and honored to be the recipient of those funds, and we’ll carry forth and help people all over the state,” she said.
Kittams says part of the money will be used to expand the Helpline Center’s suicide survivor support services.