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Q&A with Chelise Foster, the creative go-getter behind the Waldo Waldo 5K

Participants in the inaugural Waldo Waldo 5K were in high spirits at the startling line.

Before the Waldo Canyon Fire broke out in June 2012, Chelise Foster envisioned people dressed in red-and-white stripes gathering to help their community. Months after that devastating fire changed the lives of everyone in the Pikes Peak Region, Foster's idea became reality. More than 1,000 people dressed as the "Where's Waldo" character ran in the first Waldo Waldo 5K. The event was a smashing success with proceeds going to the Waldo Canyon Firefighters Fund.

The second Waldo Waldo 5K is set for Oct. 27. How many will attend this year, and who will benefit? We caught up with Foster (now the event director) who provided the details and talked about the exciting and emotional ride that has become the Waldo Waldo 5K.

The inaugural Waldo Waldo 5K was a huge hit with more than 1,000 participants. Tell us about your goals for this year.
Our primary goal this year is to raise money for local community needs while having fun. In my eyes we have already met the goal, and we’ve already surpassed the amount of Waldos’s we had last year and raised even more money.

How is registration going and how can people sign up to participate?
Registration is going really great! On October 14th we had over 1,150 registered participants, already more than we had last year. We would love to break the world record (3,872.) but our main purpose is to bring people together, have fun and raise money for local community needs, especially supporting fire recovery efforts. Online registration ends October 20th at midnight; however people can stop by packet pick-up and register. Packet pick up is the entire week before the event (October 21st to October 27th). Stop by elope between 3-6 pm that entire week at 3755 Mark Dabling Blvd, Colorado Springs, CO 80907.

You were thinking of doing some work in Waldo Canyon before the fire started. Can you share the story about creating the Waldo Waldo 5K?
My family and I went hiking in Waldo Canyon just a month before the fire.  I mentioned to my family during the hike that I would like to get our family and some friends dressed up as the character “Where’s Waldo” and help clean up the trail.
Before we got around to doing anything like that, the fire started. After the stressful summer, I thought to myself “how can I impact the community and raise money for Waldo Canyon fire relief?” The small funny idea turned in to a more general idea for a community event to raise money and have some fun.
I work at a costume company called elope and I brought the idea to them. They totally supported the idea and very graciously provided all the costumes at their cost.  I got in touch with UpaDowna, a local nonprofit in Colorado Springs that encourages people to get off the couch and be active, and asked them for their support with planning the event. UpaDowna immediately believed in this event and has helped with the coordination both years.
The first year we had over 1,000 participants and raised over $20,000 for the Waldo Canyon Firefighter Relief Fund.

Tell us about the organizations that will benefit from this year's event and why you chose them.
We are so thrilled to be working with Rocky Mountain Field institute and Trails and Open Space Coalition. They both bring so much to this community. We felt that RMFI and TOSC missions align with the Waldo Waldo 5K and believe that they will make some wonderful things happen with additional support from the event. TOSC is dedicated to the preservation of open spaces, parks, and trails in the Pikes Peak region, and RMFI restores burn areas, protects alpine lands, improves habitat, and maintains trails, and is already working in the Waldo Canyon burn area.

What will you add to the event this year?
We plan to keep the event simple, straight forward and provide each Waldo with a great experience. The Waldo Waldo 5K is truly a local event and the money that is raised actually stays here in the community. We really want to support local nonprofits and businesses, and are hoping to have several exhibitors at the park for people to meet and learn more about.

You have mentioned that you never really considered yourself to be a philanthropist, but you've created one of the biggest fundraising events in the Pikes Peak Region. How has this experience been for you?
Creating and coordinating the Waldo Waldo 5K has been such a remarkable and emotional experience. I’m so thankful for the things I have learned, the friendships I’ve made, and for the opportunity to contribute to the community. I’ve always had the desire to make a positive impact but didn’t really know where to begin. I’ve always thought to myself “think local and impact the people around you – sometimes it’s the little steps that make the difference.” I had no clue that the Waldo Waldo 5K would generate as much excitement as it did, I really just wanted to help out, raise some money and give people a lighthearted experience.
I’m looking forward to engaging with the community more in the future, and I am encouraged by how much this community truly comes together when given the opportunity. I hope that others will see that they can make an impact if they push for what they believe in. Sometimes even starting small can lead to something awesome. We can all make a difference – even if it’s just helping the people around us.

Editor's note: More info here about the Trails and Open Space Coalition and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute.
The Trails and Open Space Coalition is celebrating its 26th year as the leading trails and open space advocate in Colorado Springs. They are dedicated to the preservation of open spaces and parks, and the creation of a network of trails, bikeways and greenways for the Pikes Peak Region. The Waldo Waldo proceeds will directly benefit their community land stewardship programming and trails connection efforts.
The Rocky Mountain Field Institute is a local land conservation nonprofit dedicated to protecting, restoring and preserving our treasured natural landscapes in the Pikes Peak Region. By mobilizing thousands of community volunteers every year, RMFI restores burn areas, protects alpine lands, improves habitat, and maintains trails. RMFI is committed to restoring the Waldo Canyon burn by revegetating bare slopes and minimizing the impacts from flooding and debris flows. RMFI is working closely with the US Forest Service, El Paso County, and City of Colorado Springs, as well as partners including Coalition for the Upper South Platte and Mile High Youth Corps. Funding goes towards running workdays and purchasing tools, equipment, safety gear, seed, and restoration materials.

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