Circle of Gratitude–Runner’s Service to Community Returned in Time of Need
Merida, Mexico, the capital city of Yucatan, lies a few hours from the blissful paradise of Cancun’s swaying palm trees and white sandy beaches. It’s also where Felipe Lago learned the core values of gratitude, family, and charity.
Felipe was fortunate to come from a close-knit and hardworking family. His parents encouraged Felipe and his siblings to be good stewards of their community and share their generosity with those in need.
“My dad was always good about making sure we understood how lucky we are and how blessed we were,” Felipe said.
To show their appreciation for God, life, and their community, each family member would dedicate one day a month to perform service work and one day a year to volunteer together as a family. His mother would visit local prisons, and Felipe would help kids in school at a nearby village.
Felipe understood that he was blessed to have parents who supported his education and who sent him to a private Catholic high school. He was mindful that some people didn’t have the resources to sustain their livelihoods or receive an education. Volunteering in his community gave him an immense appreciation for his life.
“So, giving back not only is a way to be grateful to God and life, but to stay grounded, he said.
His humility and willingness to give his time allowed him to discover himself and inspired him to be a better person.
“I always try to encourage other people to do [volunteer work],” said Felipe. “It helped me find myself. … It helped me understand my capabilities as a person.”
In 2008, Felipe moved to Chicago to pursue his master’s degree. His wife Joanna, whom he met in his hometown of Merida two years before, was a friend of Karen Matts, who worked at Mercy Home. Both women were Mercy Home Heroes.
In 2020, Felipe became a member of Team MERITHON, a group founded to support Mercy Home for Boys & Girls through participation in the Chicago Marathon. The team was created in loving memory of Meridith Williams, who passed away in 2010.
The team’s fundraising page notes that it raises funds through endurance, including running and cycling events, to “honor her spirit of energy through movement” and by 2016, the team had raised more than $100,000 for Mercy Home.
“Our team is small, but our hearts are large, and we do all this in honor and memory of our friend Meridith Williams,” team organizers wrote.
When the in-person 2020 Chicago Bank of America was cancelled due to Covid-19 Felipe decided to run in a virtual marathon with a group organized by the Chicago Area Running Association (CARA). CARA is Mercy Home’s exclusive training partner.
While training for the 2021 Chicago Bank of America Marathon, Felipe received troubling news back home: his brother and father both passed away just four days apart. When those in his hometown heard the news, they came to his family’s aid.
“It was just a beautiful thing to see the community show up. People [were] like, ‘hey, don’t worry about the bills. Don’t worry about anything,'” said Felipe “The amount of love and support that came out of that, it was beautiful to see.”
Jim Harding, a former Mercy Home Heroes Coordinator, and the rest of the Heroes also heard the news and instantly reached out to support Felipe.
Being an emotional support for his family left Felipe little time to fundraise. So, Jim helped Felipe meet his fundraising goal.
“He jumped right away and helped me and made sure my goal was met,” said Felipe. [He told the Heroes], “hey, let’s help Felipe get through this.”
On race day, the memories of his brother and father lingered in his head. His emotions were running high, and he could feel the energy of the event and the crowds reverberate in the streets.
Throughout the marathon, Felipe felt the presence of his family with him.
“I was talking to them and praying for them” he remembered.
As his prayers and his legs propelled him across the finish line, Felipe looked up into the heavens to envision his brother and father smiling down on him, likely saying “job well done.”
Tears poured down his face at the finish line. Jim Harding came over and hugged him, and the two men cried together.
“I was just grateful to be able to do it [finish the marathon], and then to do it with my brother and my dad in my thoughts and [my] spirit.”
Being a Mercy Home Hero has given Felipe a sense of community here in Chicago, like in his hometown, and has allowed him to continue to give back in a unique way.
Just as Felipe supported his community in Mexico, the Mercy Home community was there for Felipe and his family, — just like our Mercy Home Heroes are for our young men and women.
And as Felipe reflected on his experiences running the marathon with our Heroes team, he offered this advice to people who are considering becoming a Mercy Home Hero.
“If you love Chicago, this is a great way to give back,” he said.
Learn more about the Mercy Home Heores