Just one month into her presidency, Kayla never expected that her first task would be to make a difference in the lives of a family who needs and deserves all the support they can get.
A Unique Pandemic Fundraiser
Through mutual friends, Kayla heard about the Bench family and their fight against a rare and powerful illness. Nine-year-old Maverick Bench was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia in May of this year, and since then the family’s world has been turned upside down. Kayla knew the community would rally behind Maverick and his family, and she didn’t waste a moment mobilizing them for action.
"As a community, we always come together for something like this,” Kayla says. “It's a little bit different with COVID, but if you have the opportunity to help...you do it. And that's what we're doing.”
The team organized a pandemic-safe event that combined two things Kayla knows Columbia Falls loves—running and local craft beer. They partnered with four local breweries—Bias Brewery, Sacred Waters, Sunrift and Backslope Brewing—as well as Root Masonry and the Glacier Bank of Columbia Falls. These partners donated all that was needed to sell entries in a virtual 5K race that came with brewery vouchers and a custom-made “Maverick’s Army” medal.
Photo: Lions Club President Kayla Hartley hands out medals to Maverick's four brothers.
Running for a Cause
“We started with 200 spots—thinking it was a long shot—and those sold out in 11 days,” Kayla says. So they ordered 50 more medals and re-opened the registration, and three days later those were gone too. The team didn’t think they would be able to sell more, but they knew they had to try. Then a private donor stepped up to cover 100 more medals and they put the word out to the community.
They encouraged runners to hit the trails and set up several medal pick-up events that allowed them to thank all the participants in a safe way. All told, Kayla and her team raised nearly $16,000 for the Bench family. She says that while it feels rewarding to spearhead such a supportive effort, what Maverick and his family need is something money can’t buy. “It makes your perspective on being present with your own family pretty real,” she reflects.
Of course, the team made sure to save one medal for the bravest of them all. It was delivered directly to Maverick in his hospital room. He posted a video message for his many supporters at home. “Thank you for doing the race for me,” he said with a brave smile. “I'm going to keep fighting down here. Love you all."