Peg Herbstritt is keeping her son’s memory alive one lap at a time.
Saturday will mark the ninth annual Herbie’s Home Town Loop, a long distance run honoring Jeremy Herbstritt, a Bellefonte Area High School graduate who was killed during the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007.
The Jeremy Herbstritt Foundation was created shortly thereafter, and as the nonprofit’s president, Peg Herbstritt has overseen a multitude of charitable endeavors aimed at combating violence, activities that range from engineering scholarships to raising funds for the construction of a community track in Bellefonte.
Herbstritt recently spoke more about the foundation’s goals.
Q: When you founded this organization in the memory of your son, what were you looking to accomplish on a personal level?
A: When we founded the Jeremy Herbstritt Foundation in memory of my son, personally, we were looking to find a way to remember him and to honor his life. We wanted to create a living legacy for him. Jeremy was killed in a school shooting. Because his death was the direct result of violence, we created his foundation in hopes that the work that we do might in some small way change the culture of our society from one that, at times, might promote violence to one that encourages genuine compassion, empathy and peace. All of our efforts are geared toward celebrating the good life that he lived.
Q: The foundation became official in 2014, but the group has been active since 2007. What kinds of projects were you doing before and what made you decide it was time to become officially established as a charitable nonprofit organization?
A: We decided to make the Jeremy Herbstritt Foundation an official 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit organization because we want the public to know that our efforts truly are all for the betterment of our community. The basis of this foundation is charitable work geared toward improving our community.
Q: Jeremy enjoyed running and being outdoors. How have you tried to capture that spirit within the efforts of the organization?
A: It’s our goal to capture his spirit within the efforts of the organization by creating events and engaging in activities that align with this “theme” if you will (Herbie’s Home Town Loop, Jeremy’s Garden, the BAHS scholarship essay questions, etc.). Herbie’s Home Town Loop is an outdoor event and also very much a family event. Jeremy valued family. People would tell me whenever they’d see him there was always a sibling present with him.
Q: Is that what drew you to the idea of building a community track in Bellefonte?
A: What drew us to the idea of building a community track in Bellefonte was the fact that Jeremy loved Bellefonte. He participated in both cross-country and track at BAHS and met some of his dearest friends through these two sports. After completing high school, he would attend community races with his old cross-country/track coaches, teammates and younger siblings. He would return to Bellefonte often to watch Joseph and Stephanie run and would help out at their practices when he was able. He always thought that it’d be nice if Bellefonte had their own legitimate track where community events (like Relay for Life) could take place and the high school kids could host home track meets. Jeremy loved track workouts and thought it’d be nice if the local running club could host their workouts in Bellefonte sometimes instead of always having to go up to the track in State College to do them there.
Q: What needs to happen before that dream can become a reality?
A: Before this dream of building a community track can become a reality, primarily, we need to obtain the financial resources to make it happen. As far as this goes, we are actively engaged with the Bellefonte Area school board and their Capital Campaign Committee. We continue to put on Herbie’s Home Town Loop and collect sponsors for this race (donations that will ultimately be used for building the track). We continue to build community support for this project and educate the community on the status of the project.
The land has been purchased for the track facility. Members of the Bellefonte school board will be present at our silent auction and pre-race dinner, Friday, from 4 to 8 p.m. to discuss the current plans and a timeline for the project (such as when ground will be broken). Of course, we will not be able to fund this entire facility ourselves. We will only be able to make a donation to the building of the facility, but we are actively working on making this dream a reality.
Q: How has the response been from within the community?
A: The community’s response toward our efforts thus far has been great. So far, we have about 181 sponsors for this year’s race/dinner/auction alone. Folks are always telling us about their enthusiasm toward the track project, too.
Q: What kind of a legacy are you hoping to leave behind as a foundation?
A: We are hoping to leave behind the legacy of community, and how sometimes it’s the small things that really do make the biggest impact on our lives … having a track for local kids to be proud of, being able to meet up with friends there, getting a flower basket from a new friend, joy that can be found in simple honest nature.