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Berbee Derby focuses on supporting community as event goes virtual

The virtual race is much smaller than usual, but the Derby still plans to give out about $100,000 in grants in 2021.
Published: Nov. 21, 2020 at 11:36 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - For nearly two decades, many families in Dane County have kicked off Thanksgiving with a special run and walk aimed at giving back to the community. This year, the annual Berbee Derby had to move online, but they are still finding ways to keep the tradition alive during the pandemic.

The race coordinator for the Berbee Derby said the virtual format has only attracted about a third of their normal participants, but they are still planning to give away around $100,000 in grants in 2021.

“In a normal year, we’d have about 6,500 participants and this year, we have 2,200,” said Berbee Derby race coordinator Suzy Shain.

The race raises a lot of money from registration fees, but Shain said they can make up the loss from fewer participants.

“Thankfully we have those great sponsors that are going to help put us over the top,” Shain explained.

For the last 17 years, the event gives all its proceeds to the Technology Education Foundation (TEF). Through the Derby’s fundraising, TEF has given out more than $1.6 million in grants focused on expanding access to technology.

“Technology can be very empowering,” said Dorothy Steffens, TEF grant coordinator.

In 2020, one TEF grant recipient was Madison’s Omega School. The school helps young adults, often in difficult situations, fulfill their high school requirements and get their GED.

“They might have a baby, they might be involved with the court system,” explained Oscar Mireles, executive director and principal of Omega School.

The money from the grant initially went towards outreach efforts to young mothers in Dane County. When COVID-19 hit, the money also helped Mireles and his staff move to virtual instruction and provide laptops to all students.

“With support from the grant, we were able to open up an individualized testing center in our facility,” Mireles said, adding, “That support was critical for us navigating our way through.”

In person or online, that community support is what the Berbee Derby is all about. Staff said families are keeping the spirit of the event alive, even during COVID-19.

“I believe that people will still dress up, I think we’re going to get great photos posted to social media,” Steffens said.

Registration is closed for the 2020 Berbee Derby, but people can still donate to TEF. Shain said they are looking forward to seeing everyone in-person next year.

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