In late June, Thornton Ray was confronted with a problem: “I was trying to think of what I wanted to do for my 21st birthday;” he said, “and I didn’t want to go out bar-hopping, so I was trying to think of something else that would commemorate the milestone.”
But then Ray, a native of Chester, jumped on an idea to run 21 consecutive miles around Chester, a quick but strenuous solution considering his Aug. 11 birthday was just around the corner.
For him, running is part of everyday life, probably even second nature. Ray, a rising junior at the College of William and Mary where he’s a finance and philosophy major and part of the school’s ROTC program, has been in the Army National Guard since 2008 – so running and being in great shape is not just a lifestyle, it is part of his job.
Ray has also participated in a number of races and marathons: the annual Henricus Dauber Dash, which is a five-mile run through some muddy terrain at Henricus Historical Park in Chester; the James River Rock; and a 10K on Richmond’s Belles Isle to name a few. However, he has run as many races as he can count on two hands.
But all these races were coordinated for a cause, and he discovered that perhaps there was a something he could dedicate the run to. Ray then looked to long-time friend Brandon Baldwin for some creativity.
Baldwin, the associate pastor at Cornerstone Assembly of God, suggested the two of them run to raise money for their church’s outreach program – the Cornerstone Revitalization Center and the Bensley/Cornerstone Athletic Club (BCAC.)
“Brandon came up with the idea of making it more than just a run, and I really liked the idea,” said Ray. “It’s just something that hasn’t been done before. I thought it would be a good way to get my foot in the door to help this charity.”
As the cost of youth sports have become, for some, a financial luxury, Cornerstone created the BCAC to provide struggling families the benefits of youth athletics.
The charity is directed to the Bensley community, which VCU studies have determined is second to only inner-city Richmond in poverty and unemployment throughout the entire Greater Richmond Metro area. The program offers year-round sports for little or no pay: football, soccer and basketball seasons providing youngsters age 6-15 with all the time on the field or on the court they can handle.
For Baldwin, who has worked first-hand with young students in the program, the best thing the program offers them is a prolonged source of positivity in their lives.
“We’ve invested in them and watched them grow up, and you love the kids …,” he said. “And another thing about a sports program is the consistency, one of the greatest things you can provide in those communities is consistency. If you have a kid who can sign up for 10 weeks, that’s incredible.”
BCAC offers more than just sports. An after-school tutoring program is available for kids of all ages before practice starts for these sports. Through BCAC, there are opportunities to “earn,” as Cornerstone likes to say, their club dues by participating in cleanup projects and helping the elderly.
BCAC gets its funding through the Cornerstone Revitalization Center (CRC), as the church’s organization is committed to being a catalyst for the revitalization of the Jeff Davis Highway corridor communities, which again includes the Bensley community.
Offering visionary leadership, fundraising support, technical and program management, among others positive resources, CRC seeks to provide these struggling communities with a variety of services: supporting quality education and development of youth leadership, works to strengthen families and promote spiritual and moral well-being, and works to restore the nearby neighborhoods to be stable, attractive and safe.
According to Baldwin, since the implementation of CRC in these communities, calls for violent crimes in the Bensley area, including the Shady Hill mobile home park, have been cut in half.
On Saturday, Aug. 13, the 21 miles Ray and Baldwin will run begins at 6 a.m. at Cornerstone Assembly of God on Chalkley Road; then they will take a left on Centralia going toward Rt. 10, then left on Rt. 10 to Jefferson Davis Highway where they will turn north, pass under Route 288 and then up to Shady Hill and Bensley where the program directs its attention, finally turning back to the church.
CRC’s Ray and Baldwin have asked that locals donate a dollar for each mile the two run to help fund the program, to pay for BCAC’s equipment, jerseys, food, and travel expenses.
Since the idea to run 21 miles in the name of the program, members of CRC have been contacting local business, requesting that they too donate for each mile; they are hoping that a single, local business sponsors a runner with a full $1 a mile or $210 if possible.
“In whatever way they donate it’s awesome. Even though it’s a priority, it’s not necessarily the absolute focus,” said Ray.
Also running a portion of the run with the boys is Cornerstone member Kenny Britt, who was close to Wayne Mancari, Cornerstone’s former paster, who sees the run as positive and admirable.
“I think it’s a really good way to bring some support to the community in a positive way,” said Britt. “Anytime I see young people out there doing something I consider to be selfless like that, I’m impressed because it just gives me hope that young people do take consideration of people other than themselves and trying to look out for the communities they live in.”
For more information on how to help or donate to the program, visit www.crc-richmond.com. The outreach program also has a Facebook page, and the church, located at 10551 Chalkley Rd., can be reached at 748-8613.