I-5 Toyota Back to School Dash Returns, Raises Money for Students

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It started 15 years ago with a challenge from Toyota to its dealerships: Come up with a charitable event in your community.

Local dealers set up galas and parties, but Heidi Pehl at I-5 Toyota felt like getting away from the formality and doing something fun for family members of all ages.

Her dealership held a back-to-school 5k “dash” the Saturday before Labor Day, and the funds raised went into scholarships for local students.

Pehl said it was intentionally named the I-5 “dash” rather than “run” because participants could choose any method they saw fit for completing the dash.

“Run, walk, bike, shopping cart, whatever you want to do,” she said. “I tend to just tell people I don’t even care if they pay, I want them to come.”

Funds are raised through registration in the race and T-shirt sales, which can be done online before the event at i-5toyota.com/i-5-back-to-school-dash.htm or on the day of the race before it begins at 9 a.m. on Aug. 21. Registration online is the only way to guarantee a T-shirt, but Pehl said there are usually plenty left over. The dash costs $50 for families, $25 for individuals and $10 for students.

The 5k stretches from I-5 Toyota to the Riverside Golf Club and back, with some participants racing competitively and others just there to stroll. Many dashers bring their children or walk their dogs, and others just come to the event to watch or help out.

It doesn’t matter what brings people there, Pehl said, because any form of participation goes to a cause she feels proud to support.

“I'm a scholarship kid. And academics and education is really near and dear to me,” she said. “You know, scholarships allowed me to go to school. I’ve had many conversations about this kind of stuff because to me, education is the true equalizer … We have a thing in-house now that’s Strayer University, it's fully online, undergrad and graduate degrees, that all of our employees can do at no cost.”

The I-5 Toyota scholarship ranges from $250 to $4,000, and in past years has gone to as many as 12 local students. Without the dash or other fundraisers last year, the fund went negative, but scholarships were awarded nonetheless.

“We save all the (scholarship) winners' applications and their essays. I know who our very first scholarship recipient was. He also was the first winner of the I-5 dash, and he is very successful in business today. The second year (recipient), she is a school teacher in Boistfort and she has a little boy, she's married,” she said.

To apply, visit i-5toyota.com/scholarship.htm. Students who participate or volunteer in the back-to-school dash can get extra points toward their scholarship.

“It’s my favorite thing we do as a dealership,” Pehl said. “I get sentimental about it.”