Heroic Feet—Mercy Home Heroes Go the Distance for Kids

Heroic Feet—Mercy Home Heroes Go the Distance for Kids

Last month, 40,000 athletes took to the streets in the 2023 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Among them were 365 “Mercy Home Heroes” as they are called for dedicating their efforts to raising support for our work. It was our largest team since its inception in 2010. 

Of all the landmarks, neighborhoods, and attractions that participants passed along the route, the one that meant the most to our Heroes was the stretch of mile 17 that we call the “Mercy Mile.” That’s where runners pass Mercy Home’s old oak door and are welcomed by a boisterous gathering of cheering fans. 

Coworkers, youth, runners’ family members and friends, West Loop neighbors, and others lined our portion of West Jackson Boulevard to wave signs and make noise. Many runners stopped to hug supporters before resuming their quest for the finish line. Helping to herald the arrival of each Hero on the Mercy Mile, volunteers ran alongside them, waving dark green flags emblazoned with the Mercy Home Hero crest as they made their way east down the block.  

A second Hero’s welcome awaited each runner at DePaul University’s student center, host to our “Heroes Headquarters.” There, runners were congratulated by our coworkers, volunteers, and one another while enjoying refreshments, more hugs and cheers, and complimentary massages from our friends at React Physical Therapy for aching, tired muscles. 

It was the culmination of a race weekend that began with a favorite Heroes tradition—the annual Friday night pasta dinner, held at the Home. The event gave runners and their families the chance to come together and fuel up with delicious food and an extra helping of motivation from coworkers, volunteers, and friends. Around 275 guests enjoyed a sumptuous Italian feast prepared once again by our dear friends John and Janet Nitti and their exceptional team. Board of Regents and Directors member Bob Carmody also served drinks and food to help our runners and their guests feel at home and relaxed before the big race. Mercy Home Heroes Manager Mary Connolly kicked off the evening’s program by offering words of gratitude and encouragement. 

“I’m the person who’s been emailing you and calling you and texting you and probably annoying you a little bit,” she said by way of introduction. “But thank you for answering the calls and the emails. I just appreciate [all of you].” 

Fr. Scott Donahue then took the mic to explain that the support our Heroes generate makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our kids and gives them the tools they need to build brighter futures. He closed with a prayer before everyone dug into their delicious dinners. 

“We thank [God] abundantly for the courage, training, discipline, generosity of heart, and spirit of our runners who help support this Home,” he said. 

Fr. Scott also welcomed the Executive Director of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Carey Pinkowski, who gave our Heroes more motivation and advice to help them succeed on Sunday. As always, we were honored that Pinkowski visited our pre-race event during the busy hours leading up to the big day. 

Connolly then recognized our “Super Heroes”—the top 10 fundraisers—for their efforts. Barbra Bukovac was this year’s top fundraiser, raising $23,524 for our boys and girls. 

Our Heroes also heard from one of our young people, Tyler, who shared a bit about his background and the ways Mercy Home has helped him. 

“Mercy is where I grew and learned new things that I didn’t know I was capable of doing,” he said. “Before Mercy, I didn’t go to school. I didn’t do much of anything other than sit around and play games all day. …I averaged straight Cs [at school]. But now I have straight As, friends, clubs I attend, and my family, who saw me wasting my life away on games, is now proud of me and want me to keep going.” 

Connolly closed out the night with tips to make sure the marathon was a success for our runners, reminding them about the importance of rest and hydration, before sending them on their way with our gratitude. 

On Sunday, our Heroes were up before sunrise to take on the challenge for which they spent so many months preparing. As they ran through the city, they were cheered on by tens of thousands of spectators—and, of course, got the biggest reception at our Mercy Mile. As they were greeted by Fr. Scott, coworkers, friends, family, and neighbors, they got the extra shot of energy they needed to finish the race strong. It was wonderful to welcome so many friends to our Home to cheer on our Heroes!  

We were proud to welcome back Mercy Home alum, Ambassadors of Mercy member, and veteran Hero Pat Zamkin (left). This was his seventh marathon running for Mercy Home and ninth marathon overall. He has been a tireless advocate for our young people and our mission, and we are incredibly grateful to have him on our team! 

Thank you to our board members who ran this year, including Associate Board members Maura Keller, Lauren Porter, and Thomas Smith and Leader Council member Claire Manaois. 

Thank you also to all our coworkers and volunteers who worked long hours to make sure that the Heroes HQ, Mercy Mile, and Pasta Dinner were an unforgettable experience for our runners. Thank you to John and Janet Nitti for another outstanding dinner for our runners and their loved ones and for all who volunteered to make that evening so enjoyable. Thank you to all our runners who dedicated their time, effort, and talents to helping our boys and girls. 

And finally, a tremendous thank you to Heroes Coordinator Mary Connolly for her hard work recruiting and leading our largest group of runners in the program’s 13-year history. Her efforts all year long truly exemplify the Heroes’ motto: “No distance is too far to save a child.” 

Miss out on the excitement this year? Thinking of running next year? Be a Hero for kids–join our 2024 Mercy Home Heroes team! 

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