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Changing the world one mile at a time

Charity Miles helps runners give back through exercise

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Running two and a half miles can give five meals to hungry people. Running 3.2 miles can provide roughly eight puppy and kitten vaccinations.

Charity Miles, a free app available to iPhone and Android users, creates incentive to exercise by offering users an opportunity to give back to the community through charitable donations.

Users can run, walk or bike and use the app's GPS capability to track their mileage. When they start the app, users choose one of several charities that partner with the app. Charity Miles calculates how far the user runs, walks or bikes. It then donates $0.25 for each walking or running mile and $0.10 for each biking mile to the selected charity. The money donated comes from corporate sponsors.

Megan Stewart, the assistant director of the University Honors College, thinks Charity Miles offers students at UB an opportunity to "integrate giving back into their daily lives."

"I believe strongly that exercise creates balance in our lives, so it's something I encourage the students I work with to do," said Stewart, who is an avid runner. "Giving back to a non-profit at the same time would be a great bonus."

Stewart feels the philanthropic nature of the app ties in perfectly with UB's emphasis on volunteering and community involvement. It is small things like using Charity Miles that can make a positive impact on campus and in our community, she said.

Charity Miles is partnered with 24 charity organizations, including Autism Speaks, Habitat for Humanity, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, The Nature Conservancy and Feeding America.

"You can run for cancer, run for environmental conservation, AIDS prevention, Mrs. Obama's Let's Move Initiative ... the list goes on," said Meghan Young, a UB alumna.

Young discovered the app when She's the First, a movement to raise money for girls' education in the developing world, participated in Charity Miles and tweeted about it.

"This app gives me an opportunity to get involved and help this organization - something I've been wanting to do," Young said.

Over 11 million Americans ran, walked or biked for charity using the app last year, according to Achilles International, a Charity Miles partner. Without using an app like Charity Miles, runners often have difficulty attracting corporate sponsorship in their fundraising efforts.

That is what founder Gene Gurkoff wanted to change.

Gurkoff has been running marathons for 10 years to raise money for Parkinson's disease research in honor of his grandfather who has Parkinson's, according to pcmag.com. He found it easy to raise money through family and friends but wanted to involve corporate sponsors.

Through Charity Miles, Gurkoff gives large corporations a chance to change the world while expanding their marketing platforms - a beneficial relationship for both parties.

The app was launched in June 2012. One year later, 100,000 participants had raised over $350,000 for charities, providing over 23,000 doses of treatment to people with HIV and feeding over 400,000 people, according to pcmag.com.

At of the end of August, Charity Miles had donated $12,248, the equivalent of almost 49,000 meals, to the UN World Food Programme alone, according to examiner.com.

When the app was first introduced, the user had to post his or her app usage on Facebook or Twitter in order to finalize a donation. This was to increase awareness of the charities and the work Charity Miles facilitates. Posting to social media is no longer a requirement but Charity Miles still makes spreading awareness an integral part of its work.

The Charity Miles slogan is, "Every mile matters," and the growing community of app users encourages anyone who can to participate in Charity Miles' mission.

Charity Miles is a small start-up and is only a little over a year old. It does not update as frequently as some other fitness apps but still has an enthusiastic following.

Eric Bigenwald, a sophomore economics and mechanical engineering major, runs on UB's club cross country and track team. He heard about Charity Miles through Facebook.

"I really like the idea," said Bigenwald. "But I don't actually have a smartphone, and I don't like carrying my phone or an iPod on a run with me anyways - both of which put me in a minority."

Brian McNerney, a sophomore mathematics major and fellow cross country club runner, echoes Bigenwald. He would not want to carry his phone with him while he runs to use the app but would consider participating if the app could be connected to the GPS-equipped watch he wears.

"I can't really use [the app] right now, but I think that anyone who likes to exercise with their phone might as well use it," Bigenwald said.

Developers are working to add more features to the app, including the ability to use the app indoors on machines such as treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes, according to the Charity Miles Facebook page.

Stewart runs consistently with three of her colleagues in the Honors College. Last year, she ran the Detroit Marathon with two of them. She sees Charity Miles as a "win-win" because it pairs two things she truly enjoys; exercise and service to the community.

Young admits she is "new to the running scene" but uses the app one to two times a week.

"I've sort of been searching for motivation to get out and run more, and I think I found it in this new app," Young said. "Get in better shape and raise money for a great cause along the way - what's not to love?"

email: features@ubspectrum.com


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