Friday, November 6, 2015

Skechers raises more than $1.4 million from Friendship Walk in Manhattan Beach

  • by Alana Garrigues
  • Oct 29, 2015

The Skechers Pier to Pier Friendship Walk, a favorite among South Bay residents, continued its success by raising $1,404,930 in its seventh year in Manhattan Beach with help from the Mira Costa Marching Band and a long list of celebrities including actress Brooke Burke-Charvet, fitness guru Denise Austin, L.A. Dodgers Adviser Tommy Lasorda and legendary boxer Sugar Ray Leonard.

But the most important aspect to Skechers CEO Michael Greenberg, who co-founded the walk, is the money it raises for children’s charities.

Before handing the microphone to celebrities during the opening ceremony, he passed it on to Sofia Duran, a young woman with special needs and a participant in the Friendship Circle – a nonprofit that brings kid volunteers and children with special needs together – to get the crowd riled up.

Mic in hand, she enthusiastically shouted words that only she knew the true meaning of. She raised her fist in the air, gave the audience a power-to-the-people virtual fist bump and waited for the cheers. She did it several times, and each time, the audience’s response was louder and more encouraging. It was clear that she loved every minute of it.

That’s precisely the focus that Greenberg wants to keep for the walk. It’s a fun morning, an opportunity for neighbors to reconnect and start the day off with a bit of fitness and a chance for kids to see some of their favorite Disney, ABC and Nickelodeon TV stars along with sports celebrities. Star Wars characters and Sponge Bob Square Pants even joined in for photos this year.

Greenberg said that it’s the focus on the cause and the children that makes the day so successful every year.

“What more do you want to be attached to than being attached to children, whether it be education or helping lifelong bonds with children with special needs that don’t really have the opportunity to engage the same way that mainstream kids do?” said Greenberg. “There are kids that actually do not have friends, and friends are new to them and you see the smiles that these friendships, that these teenage volunteers are so selfless. They give themselves. They give their time. And they put in their hours and energy and love and support and devotion to these kids with special needs and it’s just beautiful. That touches the heart of everyone.”

The more than $1.4 million goes to Friendship Circle and South Bay education foundations. That’s up by more than $200,000 compared to last year, and Greenberg expects the number will continue to grow in the future.

Half of the money comes from the walkers’ registrations. There were 12,757 of them this year. The other half, Greenberg said, comes from business sponsors and private individuals who contribute every year.

One of those donors is Steel Partners CEO Warren Lichtenstein. He met Greenberg after he moved to the South Bay six years ago. His rabbi in Aspen has a brother – Rabbi Yossi Mintz, Executive Director of the Friendship Circle. Lichtenstein was told to connected with Mintz upon his arrival in L.A. Through Mintz, he learned about the organization and connected with Greenberg. He knew he wanted to do something.

So last year, in addition to making his regular donation, which he has done since the second year of the walk, he started a challenge to raise awareness and get people interacting and posting about the event on social media.

“We wanted to figure out a way that people could participate more,” said Lichtenstein.

The challenge was to take a selfie and post it, with the hashtag #P2PSteelSports. He’d donate an extra $5 per selfie with the hashtag, posted within 24 hours of the walk.

This year, 609 posts with the hashtag went up on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, resulting in an additional $3,045 in donations.

Greenberg said it’s that type of dedication and generosity from business leaders that is necessary to make the world a better place.

“All corporations have an obligation to support good causes and to give back to the communities, not just where they operate, but on a global level,” said Greenberg.

In the walk’s first year, seven years ago, Greenberg recalled that he was nervous whether anyone would show up. That first year, he raised just over $200,000 and was happy with a great start. It’s grown by leaps and bounds since—Greenberg estimates between 15 to 20 percent growth each year in both money raised and participation. He doesn’t have a specific goal in mind for the future. As long as the walk thrives, he’s happy.

He said the partnership with local education foundations has been one major reason for the walk’s success.

“Their influence in rallying the students to sign up for the walk is imperative,” said Greenberg. “We can’t do it without them. The different districts and how they support and promote the walk, it’s just incredible.”

This year, the education foundations were out in full force, with men and woman holding signs along the walk indicating which school they represented. Most people wore the Pier to Pier T-shirts, but some folks designed their own team logos or sayings, supporting their school or supporting a friendship that grew out of the Friendship Circle.

Along the walk, there was a homecoming feel, with cheerleaders from all the local high schools—each one in a brand new pair of bright white Skechers shoes—shook pom-poms and chanted encouraging words for the walkers, “Keep it up!” and “You can do it!”

That’s perhaps what makes the day so special. Through the atmosphere and the tone that Greenberg and his team set, it makes people feel good about giving.

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