May 1, 2007

Duck Race Raises Funds for Local Youth Program

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In Tompkins County, rubber duckies are not only bathtub toys. On Sunday afternoon, the waters of Cascadilla Creek were filled with thousands of rubber ducks as part of the Seventh Annual 4-H Duck Race, a fundraising event for the 4-H Youth Program of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.
The day’s activities began with the “Waddleduck Phrolick” 5K footrace at noon and included community clean-up projects, but the focal point of the day was the duck launch at 2 p.m. An enthusiastic crowd of families, 4-H members and volunteers gathered at Cascadilla Gorge Park to watch the launch. As 4-H volunteers tossed over 2,600 rubber ducks into the creek, children and parents cheered. For the next hour, the ducks cascaded over the falls and meandered down the creek to the finishing point at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office.
Prior to the event, 4-H volunteers sold chances to enter a duck in the race, called duck chances, for $5 each. Prizes donated by over 40 local businesses were awarded to the sponsors of the first 61 ducks to cross the finish line at Cornell Cooperative Extension on Willow Avenue.
“We have volunteers who count all of the ducks and put them in bins at the end of the race,” said Megan Tifft, the 4-H Youth Development Team Coordinator at Cornell Cooperative Extension, who coordinates the Duck Race each year.
The first place prize was $500. Other top prizes included an Apple iPod, brunch for two at Banfi’s and a Sony Cybershot digital camera.
Not all of the ducks had a smooth journey down the creek. Sometimes the rubber ducks needed help on the way down. For this, there were “duck herders.”
“There are eight volunteers who stand in the creek called duck herders. They use long sticks and nets to get the ducks that get stuck in crevices or under rocks. The duck herders make sure that all of the ducks make it to the finish,” Tifft said.
Sherron Brown, Tompkins County 4-H administrative assistant, explained what happens after the ducks are launched.
“It’s like a parade,” Brown said. “People will watch the launch and then follow the ducks all the way down to the [Cornell Cooperative Extension] office. They cheer for the ducks along the way.”
News of the Duck Race travels far, and duck sponsors at this year’s race came from all over the U.S. Todd Zwigard ’83, from New York City, cheered for a few ducks that got marooned on a large rock.
“I just know one of those ducks is mine,” he said.
Zwigard bought six duck chances, one for himself, one for each of his three children and two for friends.
Zwigard, a Cornell alum in the process of moving back to Ithaca, gushed about the excitement of the Duck Race and his never-ending love affair with the Ithaca community. “This is such a fun event, and the people are so much fun. I would be very happy to give back to such a great cause,” he said.
Duck Race Day for the 4-H Club attracts hundreds of people each year, most of whom are local families with small children.
“It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year. We tell everyone to come and run and walk and bring strollers. Everything we do for this event is family-oriented,” Tifft said.
Games and small educational activities were set up for the children, and wandering around the creek was a volunteer dressed in a bright yellow duck suit. Brown’s major responsibility of the day was to guide the “Mama Duck” who passed out stickers and tiny gifts to the kids.
Tifft and Brown both emphasized the importance of volunteer efforts in carrying out 4-H’s most successful fundraising event of the year.
“I think that the success of the event is due to the fact that we have so many volunteers helping out,” Tifft said. “95 percent of people involved are volunteers, either from On Site, Cornell or 4-H, and they make it all possible.”
“We are very lucky. Our volunteers come from all over. Community members, 4-H parents … everyone wants to help out. On Site sends a crew of volunteers out to the Duck Race every year.” Brown said.
Angelica Zamudio ’08, On Site volunteer service project manager for the Duck Race, explained what her organization does for the Race and what she likes about the event.
“On Site is student run nonprofit organization. We mediate the relationship between volunteers and other nonprofits. For the Duck Race, 4-H calls us, and we gather volunteers,” she said. “It’s a really good fundraiser because of all of the action. There’s a lot for the kids to do.”
Festivities ended around 4 p.m. with an awards ceremony. Eric Davis won the men’s division of the 5K race while Ann Dorward was the top women’s runner. The $500 first place prize from the Duck Race went to Gail Birnbaum.