Five candidates representing five local non-profit organizations have set off on a race to see who can win the title of Oakhurst Honorary Mayor. Whoever raises the most money for their organization by July 10 will win the coveted title.
Wednesday night the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the campaign's kick off at Silver Creek Shopping Center in Oakhurst.
"We have some exceptional organizations in this area and the Honorary Mayoral Race provides a broad platform of exposure for their causes and means of raising funds for their organizations," said Donna Smith, co-chair of the Honorary Mayoral Campaign Committee. "Once again we have some notable candidates this year who are bringing their creativity, passion, energy, and strong competitive nature to their causes."
The five candidates competing to win include:
Dale Miller -- Oakhurst Community Center
Miller, president of the Oakhurst Community Center, said the community owned center is always running on a "shoe string budget."
"That's what got me thinking about running," Miller said. "We're on such a tight budget that it's really hard to maintain. It's in pristine condition now, but it's an ongoing battle with finances."
Miller said most of the money derived for maintenance of the center is from renting it out. Although they do fairly well in the spring and summer, according to Miller, things get tight in the fall and winter.
Miller said it's an important asset to the community because it's the only place to hold large events such as the cajun fest, crab feed, and rib fest. Miller said the annual rib fest is one of the only fundraisers that benefits the community center.
Mountain Community Women is also a supporter of the center and Miller said the center couldn't survive with them.
On top of the rib fest coming up in June, Miller said he plans on holding a number of other dinners.
"I'd like to be able to come out on top," Miller said. "I'm hoping to raise a good sum of money to assist the community center in their efforts."
Theresa Wilson -- Mountain Area Ski School
Ever since Wilson volunteered as a ski instructor for MASS in the 1990's, she says it's held a special place in her heart. This year alone, MASS sponsored more than 300 children from local schools. However, like many organizations, the ski school is struggling with finances.
"I'm running (for honorary mayor) because we need to make sure that programs like this aren't lost," Wilson said. "It teaches kids more than just ski lessons. It teaches them confidence, it teaches them how to work well with others and it teaches them about volunteering. Some of these kids may never have the opportunity to do this without this program because their parents don't ski or they don't have money to do it. It's good, clean fun."
Wilson said many of the volunteer instructors went through the ski school themselves and now have children or grandchildren going through the program. Every Friday of the ski season, MASS volunteers pick students up by the bus load and take them up to Badger Pass to go skiing.
Wilson has set a big goal for herself of $10,000 and is determined to make it.
"I'm going to work as much as I need to in order to reach that goal," Wilson said. "I have a great group of volunteers already signed up. It's going to be fun and rewarding for everybody."
A portion of the proceeds from the Bass Lake Triathlon, which will be held Saturday, June 1, will benefit Wilson's campaign. Look for more of Wilson's upcoming events in the Sierra Star. Wilson will also post events on her Facebook page -- Mountain Area Ski School Honorary Mayor Campaign.
Steve Montalto -- Children's Museum of the Sierra
Montalto, director of the museum, says running for honorary mayor is a necessary step to help keep the museum alive.
"We need the money to stay open," Montalto said. "We need the mayor's campaign to be that umbrella. We have to do this to make sure we can stay viable and deliver the kinds of programs we've been delivering and hope to deliver."
The museum, located off Golden Oak Drive, has been part of the community since 1995 and offers a variety of hands-on learning stations and exhibits for children ages 2-12.
"I think it's really the only place where kids of all ages and backgrounds can really learn to love learning, play in a safe place, and learn and grow," Montalto said.
Montalto said it costs $80,000 a year just to run museum and that does not include upkeep or upgrading of materials/exhibits. Entrance fees only cover a little more than half of the costs, according to Montalto.
With money raised from the honorary mayor race, Montalto says the museum hopes to continue summer programs, modernize exhibits, and introduce some new things to keep Mountain Area friends and visitors interested and engaged in the museum.
"We want to raise a good chunk of money so we can support programs like our summer science program," Montalto said. "We want to be able to offer those and much more in depth programs this summer and only a campaign like this can make that real."
Some of the fundraisers Montalto plans to hold include a a train ride at Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, a movie night at the Met Cinema, dinner fundraisers, a chamber mixer and some science events at the museum.
Kurtis Foster -- Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst
Foster said he decided to run for the Boys & Girls Club because of all the things they do for children by offering them safety, education -- a place where they can learn to play sports, learn artistic skills, study together and find a new mentor. Foster himself is the father of two-year-old Christian.
"I think that by giving the children a place to go where they can interact with kids of all ages is important during their journey to adulthood," Foster said. "It is a place where they can not only learn new skills but build upon and teach old ones to others and where they can play in a safe environment."
Foster said the club not only benefits children but also the community.
"It means that the future of the community is in good hands," Foster said. "With the Boys and Girls Club of Oakhurst, we can help create a group of successful and confident future leaders of America."
Foster hopes that the honorary mayor race will bring more children into the club and also add more programs that will benefit children in their future.
"With a respectful, hardworking, driven and involved younger generation, I think that our community will flourish," Foster said. "I would love to see more involvement from everyone who can be involved in what ever it might be."
Foster says he is planning a number of family friendly fundraisers that will attract children and parents who are interested in learning more about what the club has to offer.
Brian Gearhart -- Eastern Madera County SPCA
Gearhart, who was honorary mayor for the SPCA in 2009, said he decided to run for honorary mayor again because he wants to make the reality of having animal shelter in Eastern Madera County come true. He said he also hopes to raise understanding for the organization as well as being a voice for our "four legged friends."
Gearhart says the EMC SPCA is important because it is the only non-profit in the county that offers a spay/neuter program to the community.
"With over 20 years planning to build this shelter for our four legged friends, it's becoming a reality," Gearhart said. "The 8,000 plus square foot facility will feature state of the art finishes to insure that those animals in our care will have the best opportunity in finding their forever homes."
Gearhart said that even though the EMC SPCA does not yet have a facility, they have still had good adoption results thanks to the efforts of the volunteers.
"Our countless volunteers work tirelessly to screen and match up the best pets with the greatest homes," Gearhart said. "When the shelter is built, there will be a safe place for those found animals, as well as a place where families can find the new perfect addition into their home."
Gearhart said that he, and everyone at the EMC SPCA, hope the honorary mayor race will bring awareness of their organization to the community. He said that the votes (dollars) raised will all go directly to the shelter fund and make construction an even closer reality.
Gearhart says upcoming fundraising events include a raffle, bake sales, an evening at Western Sierra Nursery, and a low-cost vaccine clinic in the North Fork area May 4.
"I have no doubt that this is going to be both a fun and successful campaign for everyone involved," Smith said.