Written by Gayle Starling-Melvin
Youth seesaw during Middleburg Heights (Ohio) UCC's 25th annual winter teeter-totter marathon. Randy Varcho photo.
No Guinness world records were set at the end of Middleburg Heights (Ohio) Community UCC's "sporting event," held the weekend of Feb. 16. Neither were any medals or blue ribbons given.
Instead, the youth participants were filled with gratification for a job well done.
These feelings were justified, considering they had just completed the 25th annual Middleburg Heights UCC "Teeter-Totter 48-hour Marathon" in freezing weather and raised thousands of dollars for Cleveland's West Side Ecumenical Ministry (WSEM).
Organized by Middleburg Heights UCC youth educators Sandy Uhl and Ken Evans, the marathon's objective is for children and teenagers to "teeter-totter" continuously for 48 hours in the fundraising effort.
While some seesawed in two-hour shifts, others, armed with cans and big grins, collected money from passing motorists. Church members and sponsors pledged money as well. Inside the church was plenty of soup, doughnuts, good friends and a respite from the frigid temperatures. Pizzas arrived on the hour.
Fifteen-year-old Robert McGhee came braced for the weather, wearing two pairs of pants, two sweatshirts, thermal gloves, a thermal jacket and a scarf for his six-hour shift.
"I enjoyed it because it was for a good cause," he says.
Sara Konery, 16, worked 42 hours at the marathon, with only seven hours of sleep. She sees first hand how the money from the marathon is used.
"José [Estremara, director of the WSEM Youth Initiative program] takes us on tours of the WSEM offices and the different program centers," she says. "I find it amazing how we can make a difference and help the kids of WSEM."
Middleburg Director of Religious Education Mary Hart estimates that the total raised will exceed $7,000. According to Hart, $85,000 has been raised since the marathon's inception.
Usually, youth from WSEM's inner city programs do not participate in the marathon in the Cleveland suburbs.
This time, however, teens from WSEM participated in the physical challenge and seesawed like everyone else.
"They appreciated the opportunity to raise funds for their own programs," says Estremera.
Youth members of Avon Lake (Ohio) UCC and First Congregational UCC in Berea, Ohio, also were on hand to help.
"There are so many unselfish people out there," says Hart. "One family gives $1,000 anonymously to the marathon every year.
"Last Friday, a young man, who may have been a waiter, stopped on his way to work and asked us what we were doing," Hart says. "The next day, he stopped again, this time giving the children all of his cash tips from the previous night. The next time, he returned with hot chocolate for everyone!"
"This kind of generosity," says Hart, "makes this project all the more worth worthwhile."