Etna, California—a small town of fewer than 700 people—might not be the grandest of places, or the most geographically close, to announce a major increase of a Calgary fundraising goal.
Yet for Jeromy Farkas, Etna is where he called from to make the announcement of the increased goal of $125,000 for Jeromy’s Big Run in support of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area.
He’s currently halfway through his trek from the most southern parts of the United States, up through the Pacific Northwest along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Farkas and BBBS initially announced a $50,000 goal back in March of this year. That goal was eclipsed even before the photos were finished and the video was clipped for that day’s news. Then, the new goal of $80,000 became $100,000, as Calgarians from all political stripes stepped up to donate to the former mayoral candidate’s cause.
“It’s really stuns me actually to see many, many, many of my political rivals stepping up in such a big way to support me, to send me notes of encouragement,” said Farkas.
“I was so excited to actually see day one support from former mayor Nenshi endorsing this run campaign, which is probably the last thing that people would have expected. I have really enjoyed this opportunity to do something to make a difference that isn’t politics.”
The entirety of the donations being made to BBBS are going to support their programs. And Farkas is proud to point out that he’s paying for his trip, all 4,300 km of it, out of pocket.
“I wanted to make sure that all of the donations were actually going out the door to help the kids rather than help me go on a vacation, and trust me, this is probably one of the worst kinds of vacations you could pick if you’re looking for anything remotely comfortable and relaxed,” he said.
To date, 516 donors have stepped up to provide more than $106,000 to BBBS as part of the fundraising campaign.
Began as an ambitious goal for a small organization
Ken Lima-Coelho, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area, called the initial goal an ambitious one to start with as a small organization.
“I first started talking to Jeremy about this adventure of his in support of Big Brothers Big Sisters all those months ago, $50,000 was the goal—and $50,000 was an ambitious goal,” he said.
“I mean, he’s got a large following, but you know our charity had never been connected to him, and he’d never done anything of this scale… but this is a charity that he really cared about, and so we thought, ‘let’s go for broke.'”
Lima-Coelho said, as the story goes, that goal just kept getting smashed every time they raised it.
The Stampede City Kinsmen helped push the last goal over the line with a $15,000 donation. Just in time for the Stampede.
Lima-Coelho, along with Anne Logan, who is a development officer for BBBS, visited the Kinsmen last month after being asked to share the story of Jeromy’s Big Run with their members.
“A beautiful moment happened—that moment was one of the club members, actually a guy named Rob, was telling me across the table while we were just having some supper before the presentation that back in Ontario when he was a kid, he was a little brother,” said Lima-Coelho.
Rather than devoting the entire time to the story about Farkas, Lima-Coelho invited Rob to join in telling his story of what kind of impact BBBS made on his life.
“He told it better than I could as a CEO or a fundraiser for our cause. He told his colleagues and his peers in the club the story of what we do, and how we do it, and how we’ve been doing it for many, many years,” said Lima-Coelho.
“It’s not lost to me that just days before the Calgary Stampede showcases what we’re about in community, in Calgary, the kinsmen club named for that very city stepped up so massively.”
Learning from the trail, and overcoming obstacles
Lima-Coelho said that every year, BBBS has to raise $1.9 million or more to run its programs. To break $100,000, and to aim for $125,000, he said, felt pretty good.
“Boy oh boy, $125,000. That started with a great conversation between a guy on a journey himself, and an organization ambitious for its future.”
Farkas spoke candidly to LiveWire Calgary about that journey, which he said, has been at times punishing. He’s been documenting the ups, and downs, through posts he makes to his followers on social media.
“I would have quit hundreds of miles ago, if it wasn’t for the fact that me being out here—of course, it’s an adventure of a lifetime, or several lifetimes for me personally—is also making a huge impact for the kids at home,” he said.
And it has been difficult for Farkas on his journey. From spending time recovering from a Covid infection, to being injured on the trail, to battling the extreme elements of mountain passes, having his hat eaten by a marmot, to things even more shocking.
“I’m basically just trying to be here present in the moment, even if that means waking up in the middle of the night, with the tree beside my tent on fire because of a lightning strike,” he said.
Yet there have been incredible moments on the trail as well. The kind of moments, he said, that have helped him to grow as a person.
“In hindsight, I realized that I had a lot of growing up to do, and whether you like it or not with everything that the trail throws at you, you have to sink or swim, and you have to grow from these experiences otherwise, it’s gonna break you.”
Cooperation, trust, communication
He said that among the things he’s learned are what it means to be more cooperative and to become a better team player. Something he called cliche, but then followed up with a story about how this was the difference between life or death in the mountains of the southern United States.
“I think before I started this, I understood teamwork in a more abstract way. I never really got it until I was climbing up an ice wall hand in hand with another hiker, knowing that if I fell, they would fall, and if they fell, I would fall,” said Farkas.
“Having that sense of trust, communication, cooperation: Frankly, it’s something that was lacking in me, my personal life, and my professional life.”
Finding that sense of self-improvement, and to move on from the dark moments, is among the reasons why he chose to work with BBBS said Farkas.
“In many ways, what I’m going through out here in the middle of nowhere can be an analogy for life. And no matter how dark you think, there’s always the dawn,” he said.
And that, he said, is something he hopes he inspires in the kids who are being supported by BBBS.
“This is a very tough lesson for me to learn as a very fiercely independent, frankly, solitary person in my private life—to be vulnerable, to ask for help, and to get that help” he said.
“I think it goes to show no matter how successful or self-confident a person looks from the outside looking in, we all go through tough times, and that can be no more evident than the kids BBBS serves the community.”