After the COVID-19 pandemic canceled what would have been its second iteration, the Second Ever World's Shortest St. Patrick's Zero K returns to Bridge Street at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The event, which benefits Tri-Lakes CASA, has already garnered registered runners from 19 states. While most hail from Arkansas or neighboring states, there are runners signed up from Massachusetts and Florida to Arizona and Washington, said Suzanne Herron, the executive director of Tri-Lakes CASA.
"Currently, we're at about 350 -- well, 352 to be exact -- registrations, and we're gonna keep the registrations open," she said Thursday morning. "So we did this race in 2019 -- that was the very first time we did it -- and we had about 458 participants, so that was a huge success. And we signed up to do it again in 2020, and COVID hit, so it got shut down.
"Lots of people kept asking the convention center, Visit Hot Springs, when it was coming back, if it was coming back, and so they contacted us and said, 'We want to put this back on again,' and so we were game."
The event is a partnership with Visit Hot Springs and sponsored by Arkansas Beverage Sales, Herron said. The organization expects "well over 450" participants, especially since "it's just raising money for a good cause."
Tri-Lakes CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, is a grant- and donation-funded organization that provides trained advocates for abused and neglected children.
"We advocate for children in the foster care system through volunteers. So we recruit and train and support community volunteers who are assigned and court-appointed by the judge to these foster children to make sure that they have a voice in the court," Herron said.
"The parents have an attorney; the state DHS has an attorney. The child has an attorney, which is an ad litem (appointed attorney for children), but all of those people -- as busy as that system is -- change a lot. You have children in foster homes that get moved. Their placement is constantly moved around, and the goal of our program is to assign one person who's dedicated to just that child and that is consistent with that child through the duration of their case," she said.
"Most cases, on average, last around 15 months, 15 to 18 months, where either they're reunified with their parents, or their parental rights have been terminated, and the children are placed up for adoption."
Herron said since the organization works with children, it is difficult to show how donations benefit the organization and the children it serves.
"We're dealing with juveniles, so we can't discuss it," she said. "We can't show pictures and tell all the wonderful things that go on with us. We can give you general stories, but we can't pinpoint and bring a child's name or picture to surface.
"So sometimes that makes it really difficult when people want to donate to us. ... So fun things like this -- like the Zero K -- kind of gives us an opportunity to get people out to us, ask us what we do and let us explain it in a little bit different way that they just may not have the opportunity otherwise to know."
Tri-Lakes CASA, which covers Garland, Hot Spring and Grant counties, is 60% funded by grants, which means donations and events such as the Zero K, the annual An Ornamental Affair and Don Baker Memorial Golf Tournament provide the other 40% of their funding.
"Sometimes grants get real specific, and the way that they're written makes it very difficult for us to qualify because while we are direct care to a child, we don't keep the child in our home," Herron said.
"They're in a foster home, or they're in (Ouachita Children's Center, Hillcrest (Children's Home), something like that. ... We advocate for the child, and that's something very specific, so we don't always qualify for all of the grants. We have two large grants, and then we write several small ones that we do qualify for consistently. But most of it does come from community donations, civic groups and churches."
Registration for the 299-foot race will remain open until noon Saturday, and packets can be picked up on Bridge Street starting at 3 p.m. Those interested in signing up for the race can visit https://bit.ly/3ZSWdHD.
"We only have packets for 500 people, but we can get more after the event if we have more," Herron said. "So I think since this is our first year back that we're just gonna let them roll, and anything over 500 we'll get them their packets next week. ... They get real medals. They get race bibs, T-shirts, and a goodie bag -- swag bags from Arkansas Beverage."