Teresa Zabrek is on the run, and yet the race is weeks away.
Race director for the Benicia Run for Education, Teresa in late February was putting up fliers, meeting with city officials, and tending to countless other details for the event that will bring more than 1,000 runners to Benicia this month.
So how does a non-runner end up organizing Benicia Educational Foundation’s largest fundraising activity?
“When they called about being race director, I wasn’t sure about taking it on,” says Teresa, 47, now in her third year coordinating the event. She started volunteering with the race in 2008 but had no other running or race experience. Still, she wanted to help. So she stepped forward.
Teresa has stepped forward in many ways since she, her husband and their two children arrived in December 2007 from Houston. A former flight attendant, she now devotes herself to her children’s schools and related organizations. She is a board member of Benicia High’s PTA and the Benicia Educational Foundation, plus she coordinates BEF’s Parade of Pigs 4 Kids, the auction at Benicia Middle School, and Benicia High’s ice cream social. She even ran two 5K races last fall to experience them as a runner instead of as director.
She insists she shouldn’t be in the spotlight.
“I’m just one of the hundreds of volunteers, and everyone is needed. I don’t want any more credit than any other volunteer. I’m just a little more visible,” Teresa says.
How did you get started with volunteering at the schools?
I was at my first PTA meeting at the middle school, and it was one of those things where they need help and you raise your hand and you don’t know it’s a big event. It was the Picnic on the Green [a school-wide event that parents also attend]. I’d just moved here and I’d never even been to one.
How much time do you spend working on the race?
Some days five to eight hours a day, and then there are days when I enjoy my family and don’t do any work.
I have lots of help. There are more than 100 volunteers on race day alone. We need at least 100 to close the streets. The person along the course is doing an important job. That role is just as important as mine. I just happen to have more time so I can do a bit more.
Where will you be on race day?
On the [First Street] Green. … I’m there to help and support the other volunteers who oversee the different parts of the day. We also meet with city officials on race morning. If you’re going to close city streets, they want to make sure everything is done right.
What’s your favorite part of race day?
The workout. It’s a warm-up exercise routine lead by Leslie Rowley from Jazzercise. She leads a huge group in aerobics. You see little kids and grandmas and grandpas doing aerobics with the palm trees in the background. There are lots of good pictures from that. It’s neat.
And you’re coordinating on the Parade of Pigs now as well?
That one’s underway – the pigs are in the shops and restaurants now. This year we’re going to combine our year-end party with the pig auction. That’ll be May 18 at the Vet’s Hall, so I’ll be more focused on that after the race.
How do you get everything done?
I don’t have a good answer to that. Sometimes I’m working at 2 in the morning, sometimes I’m working all day. If I had a boss, I’d have to do it a certain way. This way I can make it work around my family’s schedule.
What motivates you to volunteer so much time?
It comes down to I just don’t want to say “No.” If I don’t do it, it might not get done. When the economy went downhill, so many people went back to work that the need for volunteers increased. If I can and I have time, I want to help. I’ve been given a good life and I want to help others.
Why focus on raising money for education?
That’s nothing I ever set out to do. But when my son was little, I started going to PTA meetings. I just thought I should be involved, see what’s going on. It allowed me to keep my finger on the pulse of things happening at the school. And I started raising my hand to help.
What’s your dream for local education funding?
My favorite bumper sticker says: “It will be a perfect world when schools have all the funding they need and the military has to have a bake sale.” It’s not that the military is not important, but it would be a dream if education had proper funding and volunteer funding was just a supplement instead of supplying basic needs.
Is this what you thought you’d be doing when you planned your move to California?
No [laughs]. My friends threw me a party before I left and they told me to take it easy. The joke is that I told everybody, “Yes, I’m going to fly under the radar.” But by my first Christmas letter, it was clear I hadn’t done that and they tease me about it. But that’s all right. This has allowed me to meet some incredible parents.
What recharges you?
My kids. I’m really, really lucky – I’ve got great kids.
How do you relax?
I’m an HGTV junkie [laughs].
Who inspires you?
Where I moved from, Houston, is a very philanthropic city. They have an event every year, the March of Dimes walk, and my friend Rosemary Schatzman heads Team Schatzman. Her team’s goal this year is to raise $40,000 – she’s just a fundraising machine. She does it so well, she’s always really upbeat.
Really, there are a lot of people out there who do so much more than I do. They’re inspiring, too.
What’s next for you?
I’d like to do more with my husband, spend more time and travel with him. But I’ll volunteer as long as I my kids are in school.