Twelve-year-old Aiden Castaneda loves to run, and has participated in hometown events in San Juan Bautista such as the Fun Run and the Mission 10 Race. He runs every night with his family from a starting line in front of the Mission San Juan Bautista to Anzar High School and back.
One thing he and his family don’t love, however, is the dangerous route they have to take down Second Street to First Street and then on to San Juan Highway, a narrow, busy road that serves as the northern route to the city.
“They close the track at the high school so we can’t run there,” said Crystal Castaneda, Aiden’s mother. “And when you run down the road to the school you have all these big trucks and cars flying by.”
That may change in the future, as Aiden and others have been raising funds for a new running track at the school.
Julie Castaneda Hicks, a teacher at San Juan School, has been involved in running programs. When she began a chapter of the Rising New York Roadrunners, a free program created by the organizers of the New York City Marathon, she was pleasantly surprised by the response from her students.
“The students really, really love it,” Hicks said. “They keep track of the miles they run and they win prizes based on those miles. But right now, the kids have to run around the blacktop, so we wanted a real track for them. And that is how we got started.”
The goal is to raise $97,700 that would go toward a decomposed granite surfaced track in a field on the north side of San Juan School. The track would be used by students, but would also be open to local residents looking for a safe place to run.
When the San Juan Home & School Club announced a fundraiser to build the track, Aiden joined in immediately. “I wanted to help because it would give people a place to run safer,” he said. “It can be pretty scary out there.”
He and his mother talked about ways to raise money and they decided to get sponsorship for the Wharf to Wharf race, an annual six-mile run from Santa Cruz to Capitola.
“He drafted a letter asking for help and I took him door-to-door to the businesses,” Crystal said. “He had to explain to everyone what he was trying to do and he did an amazing job.”
Aiden succeeded in getting 15 sponsors—many from San Juan Bautista—including Lolla, 18th Barrel, Daisy’s Saloon, Dona Esther, Jardines, San Juan Bakery, Bear’s Hideaway and JJs Burgers. His father, Alfred, has shirts printed for the family, calling themselves the Mission Milers, with all the sponsors listed on the back.
Not only did Aiden complete the race in a mere 43 minutes, 28 seconds, a remarkable time for the then-11 year old, he beat his father to the finish line. And better yet, he earned over $1,600 for his efforts.
To date, Aiden has raised $2,385 and been recognized by the Community Foundation for San Benito County at the annual National Philanthropy Day celebration, the youngest person yet to receive that honor.
The Home & School Club is continuing fundraising efforts through A Community Thrives, a program created by the USA Today Network. The fundraiser runs through Oct. 16 and makes the project eligible for a possible grant.
So far, the club has raised $29,545 of the $97,700 and will work toward its ultimate goal of raising $150,000 for a track with an all-weather surface.
“We are hoping that the community will continue to support us,” Hicks said. “We know it might be hard right now with the way things are going. But we are going to make it happen. Running keeps kids active in a non-competitive environment and builds confidence and motivation. A track would be a huge benefit to young people in this town, to everyone who wants to have a healthy, safe place to exercise.”
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