The statistics are overwhelming: The U.N. Childrens Fund estimated about 163 million orphans in the world in 2009, with the number predicted to grow exponentially over the next couple of decades.
One Durango man saw those statistics and wasnt overwhelmed. He saw an opportunity to make a difference. Gerry Geraghty founded River Run for Orphans and has helped raise more than $200,000 for orphans and orphanages all over the developing world.
Although the 2011 runs are over, hes already gearing up for 2012, which will include new cities and more participants, if the last few years are any indication. Seven runs are already scheduled for 2012, adding Salt Lake City, Cortez, Pueblo and Kansas City, Mo., to repeat cities Durango, Farmington and Grand Junction. Others are in the works in Texas, Illinois, Arizona and Wyoming.
River Run for Orphans is different from the average race/walk. Entry fees cover the expenses of the race for the hosting organization, and runners raise money via pledges and other fundraisers to donate to the orphanage or project of their choice. Many churches raise money year round.
I tell them to pick a project that is something specific, tangible and that will have proof where the money goes, Geraghty said. Last year, my sons and I went door to door in our neighborhood looking for donations for goats, chickens and soccer balls for an orphanage in Uganda.
This year, we were raising money to build a chicken coop for 200 chickens for a school. Not only will it provide food, they can sell eggs and chickens and bring in money for the school.
The 5K run/walk was originally named after Durangos River Church, which helped hold the inaugural run in 2008. The fifth annual River Run for Orphans in Durango will take place Sept. 22.
They asked me to help start a run for AIDS, Geraghty said. I said AIDS is a disease, the money goes for research and pharmaceuticals, and its hard to connect. An orphan is a person. Thats easier.
Now, as the event has expanded to other cities, he has dubbed his project A River of People Creating Resources for Orphans.
Geraghty has been active in his faith since becoming a Christian in college. He helped found a Christian swim team, organized a day of Christian fellowship at the NCAA national swimming championships and smuggled Bibles into Communist bloc countries, following the lead of a fellow swimmer and roommate.
He smuggled Bibles into Bulgaria, Geraghty said. He won the 400-meter championship at the World Student Games one day, and was taken in for questioning for handing Bibles out on the street the next.
At about that time, Geraghtys grandmother came back into his life, and he discovered she had taken numerous Bible-smuggling trips of her own.
In 1982, we took a Bible-smuggling trip to Romania, Geraghty said. It was like playing James Bond, but with my 71-year-old grandmother. We had false panels in the doors and trunk to get the Bibles across the border.
When Geraghty started River Run for Orphans, he was working for a Christian radio station in Farmington. When the station abruptly closed in January 2010, Geraghty and his wife, Lauren, took a leap of faith, and he began working full time on the fundraiser. He has the ultimate goal of seeing the event run in 50 cities.
Runs were held in Farmington, Grand Junction, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs in addition to Durango in 2011, bringing in $112,000, more than double what was raised in the previous three years combined.
I sow seeds, call and talk to people and wait for God to prompt them, he said. Its really exciting. Im the front man, waiting on God to open doors. If he told me to do something else, I would.
Geraghty doesnt see the River Run for Orphans just as a way to help orphans around the world, but as a way for Christians of various denominations to come together.
Churches usually stay within themselves, but heres a chance to mingle with others in the Body of Christ, Geraghty said. It doesnt matter whether they were sprinkled or dunked, worship on Saturday or Sunday or what version of the Bible they read. Everyone can do River Run for Orphans.