Since May of 2010, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Upstream Arts, a non-profit that uses the power of arts education to enhance the lives of youth and adults with disabilities. If you’ve talked to me at any time during my tenure, you’ve probably heard all about how much I love this organization. I probably wouldn’t shut up about it. If you haven’t heard me talk about the work that I (and about 20 other Twin Cities artists) do with Upstream Arts, then just ask me about it next time we chat. I probably won’t shut up about it.

Simply put, we use the arts to teach social and communication skills. We work with people of all abilities and of all ages. In each of our classes we go over our Guidelines for Good Graces:

1. Raise your hand (if you’ve got something to say, just raise your hand)
2. Respect (treat everyone, including yourself, with kindness)
3. Risk (try new things, challenge yourself)

It’s this third guideline that has really worked its way into my heart, soul, and body over the past year and a half. I’ve always considered myself a risk taker. For example, I moved across the country just because I liked the arts community here in the Twin Cities and ended up running a small theatre company for five years. While that came with some challenges, it was eerily familiar in that I had made big moves before and working in theatre was what I did.

With each passing class (and each discussion of risk), I began to question myself. What risks can I take that aren’t familiar? How can I challenge myself in a new way? I started off small. Never a runner before in my life, I decided to take a risk and run a 5k. I talked with a friend about helping me get started, signed up for a race, and then trained for four months. On April 30 of last year, I completed the Get in Gear 5k and am proud to report that I ran the entire time!

So, why am I telling you all of this? I couldn’t do this amazingly fulfilling work without my friends at Upstream Arts. I couldn’t have run my first 5k without the support of my friends along the way. I’ve been inspired to take on a new risk, but I need your help.

On Sunday, August 12, 2012, I’m participating in my first triathlon! I will swim 500 yards, bike 15.5 miles, and run 5k, all to raise money for Upstream Arts. My goal is to raise $3750. That’s $1250 per segment of swimming, biking, and running. To put that dollar amount into perspective, this would cover over half the costs for one 12-week residency.

I’m launching this fundraiser on February 12, exactly 6 months to the day of the race at Lake Nokomis. I’ve got 6 months to train, and you’ve got 6 months to help me. Think you can spare $5? Awesome! Or $5 a month from now until August? Awesome! Maybe you want to pony up for $100 for one segment of the race? Or $100 for each segment? Awesome! You can donate easily via this website, send in a check with “tri” in the memo line (to Upstream Arts, 3501 Chicago Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55407), or hand me cash money and I’ll make sure it makes its way into the office. Any amount you choose to give will be much appreciated and will help share our unique programming with more people. I’ll acknowledge you as a supporter unless you tell me you’d rather it be an anonymous gift. You’ve got between now and August 12 to make a financial contribution for Swim. Bike. Run. Try., but you’re welcome to continue your support at any amount at any time after the event as well!

I’ve also created a website with more information on this endeavor:

Working with Upstream Arts has changed my life.
Embracing my inner athlete has changed my life.

Please consider supporting me as I take a risk and Swim. Bike. Run. Try. to raise money for Upstream Arts so that more youth and adults with disabilities may try new things in our classes and in their lives.

-Teaching Artist (and Triathalon Trainee) Jess Finney

Visit her fundraising page for more information and to show your support