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Organizers recruit next generation of Hidden Gem leaders

Tom Dobrez goes through some of the areas of responsibility new leaders could take over in running the Hidden Gem Half Marathon, including supplies. He noted that someone has to make sure the banana table at the finish line is well stocked. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Interest in joining the next generation of leaders for the Hidden Gem Half Marathon appeared to be strong to the race’s founders at an informational meeting Sunday, Feb. 18. 

Brent Bachus and Tom Dobrez said they had hoped at least five people would show up and show interest. 

The turnout was closer to 35, including three babies, who they joked might be the next generation of Hidden Gem leaders. When Dobrez asked how many had run the race, about three-quarters of the people present raised their hands. 

Dobrez started the meeting with a brief history of Flossmoor’s Future, the nonprofit organization that sponsors the Hidden Gem. It was formed several years ago to promote the village and bring the community together. 

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The core group of event organizers has been Dobrez, Bachus, Maggie Bachus, Sam Cutrara, Betsy Cutrara and Katie Sullivan. Co-founder Stephanie Wright has since moved on to become the community engagement manager for the village of Flossmoor. 

The organization, Dobrez said, consisted of “people like yourselves that live in this community and have donated and dedicated their time and energy to the events that we have helped organize.”

The Hidden Gem is the organization’s biggest event. The race attracts nearly 1,000 runners each year and has been named Race of the Year by the Chicago Area Runners Association two years in a row. 

The race also brings together hundreds of Flossmoor residents who volunteer to help with the many tasks required to operate the race. Bachus, who coordinates volunteers, said about 400 people helped with the 2023 race.

“Our volunteers who are just totally passionate and excited, regardless of what role it was that they played,” he said, noting that a strong majority return each year, which makes the coordinator’s job easier than it was in the beginning.

That volunteer base is a key part of the core group the foundation has established. Dobrez outlined other elements of structure new leaders will inherit, including the benefits of a 501c3 organization to handle finances; raising funds, which comes from entry fees and from established sponsors; course operations and runner management procedures; purchasing and supplies; social media; and government relations.

The last was one of the most difficult elements of establishing the race, Dobrez said. The race route is managed by multiple jurisdictions, including the Illinois Department of Transportation, Cook County, the village of Flossmoor, Rich Township and Homewood-Flossmoor School District 233. All those government bodies had to grant permission so the race could be run. 

With four races completed, the procedures for working with governments are well established, he said.

“We have a lot of things that we’ve been able to build over the course of the last few years,” Dobrez said. He likened it to “a rocket ship that’s already flying. It’s a matter of just taking the controls.”

He invited the people at the meeting to identify what tasks best fit their skills and let the organizers know what part of the race they would like to help with. 

Maggie Bachus noted that the current team will still be engaged, helping new people get situated and making the transition smooth for everyone.

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