Human Race's 'Wonder Woman' returns Saturday
Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 3:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 3:56 p.m.
To her three daughters, Guerneville near-native Jennifer Neeley is Wonder Woman every day. For the rest of Sonoma County, she dresses the part just one Saturday a year.
And this coming Saturday is it.
Neeley is one of the community heroes who absolutely would not miss the grand and goofy Human Race benefit walk/run in Santa Rosa, the largest of its kind in America, and who find that the early morning stampede of caring is even more fun when conducted in costume.
“It makes you stand out,” said Neeley, 41. “People are always waving and calling me Wonder Woman and taking pictures of me.”
Her flashy alter ego also helps her attract donations. For weeks before the race, Neeley dispatches e-mails urging supporters to help Wonder Woman boost the heroic work of West County Health Centers, which provides essential medical, dental and mental-health services at community health facilities in Guerneville, Occidental, Forestville and Sebastopol.
Neeley works as the health centers' associate director of development and each year offers donors an 8-by-10 glossy of her in full Wonder Woman regalia for a contribution of $100 or more.
Since the 2008 Human Race, she and a team of fellow West County Health Centers employees and advocates have brought in more than $11,000.
Not only does Sonoma County's Human Race bring together 8,000 or 9,000 people for high-spirited 3- and 10-kilometer jaunts from Santa Rosa's Slater Middle School up into Howarth and Spring Lake parks. It also provides an attractive fund-raising vehicle to more than 200 nonprofits.
Donations collected by the participants topped a record $1.1 million in 2006. In more recent years, the total has averaged closer to $700,000.
Beneficiaries of the great race, coordinated for 32 years by the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, include schools, youth sports teams, animal-welfare agencies and every conceivable sort of service organization. Among the top money raisers so far this year are Becoming Independent, Children's Museum of Sonoma County, Food for Thought/Sonoma County AIDS Food Bank, Pulmonary Hypertension Association and The Childrens Village.
“It's good to see how many people care about the nonprofits in Sonoma County,” Neeley said.
Each year the Volunteer Center (humanracenow.org) recognizes top team and individual money raisers. And at a ceremony some weeks after the race, the agency awards prizes to the participants judged to have appeared in the best costumes.
Neeley has won the award for best individual adult costume more than once. Prizes also are presented to the best-costumed kids, dogs and teams, and to the longest and fastest centipedes — teams whose members are somehow linked one to another.
“The Volunteer Center has always liked costumes,” Neeley said.
She came up with Wonder Woman when a team from the Russian River Health Centers signed up for the Human Race for the first time in '08 and named themselves “Super Heroes of Health Care.” Most of her team members have since opted not to dress up on race Saturday, but for El Molino High alum Neeley the role-playing has become integral to the experience.
“You've got to have a gimmick,” she said. “It's more fun. People laugh. It makes me happy.”
Well before the 8 a.m. start time Saturday, Neeley will show up at the race and accompanying marketplace and pancake breakfast in full regalia. Some fellow members of her team will wear typical athletic gear and will run against the clock.
But Wonder Woman does not run, nor fly.
“I wear high heels, gold sequined high heels,” she said. “So I walk.”
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