If you have run a 5K in the Mercer County area, there’s a good chance that the race was started by Jerry Fennelly.
Jerry Fennelly, President of Fennelly Associates Inc., has always been a believer in giving back. After attending countless fundraising events in his community, he used his knowledge of 5K races to help Princeton area nonprofits establish their own annual fundraisers — including the Eden Autism 5K.
“I was doing about 40 races a year, and I saw the opportunity to convert that into a perpetual source of income for nonprofits,” said Jerry. “I have a lot of energy, and when you have a lot of energy, you want to put it in a good place.”
Jerry realized that a 5K would be the perfect fundraiser to bring people together in support of essential causes while ensuring that the nonprofits that host those races gain an annual source of funds. In 2004 he worked with Eden Autism to launch the first annual Eden Autism 5K. His dream of creating a lasting fundraiser worked. This year is Eden’s 20th annual race!
The first Eden Autism 5K had 470 runners and raised $42,000. Over time, the race has grown to include over 1,000 runners and walkers and raises roughly $200,000 annually. It has been fantastic for Jerry to see his dream of a successful annual nonprofit event come to life.
“It’s funny when you have a business plan, and it actually works,” Jerry said. “If we can plan 20, 30 years out and have that plan work, it’s a home run.”
Before launching the Eden Autism 5K, Jerry helped a handful of other nonprofits launch their race events. In fact, Jerry helped launch so many throughout the Mercer County area that he became known as the Johnny Appleseed of 5Ks.
“Jerry likes to say that his enthusiasm for helping non-profits comes from an upbringing of community responsibility. Given how much he has done for Eden and other organizations in the greater Princeton area, it’s clear that his big heart and busy mind represent the true philanthropist that he is,” said Eden Autism Chief Development Officer Melinda McAleer.
The biggest challenge of launching a new 5K in the early 2000s was getting the nonprofits on board. “Back then, black tie events were the big money raiser, and I’m pitching an idea about a race being the number one fundraiser,” said Jerry. “Everyone can be involved in racing — kids, women, men, old men, you name it — so it could be a big event for the whole family, the kind of event that people go back to year after year.”
In addition to his support with the Eden Autism 5K, Jerry served on Eden’s Board of Trustees from 1988 to 1995 and was honored at the Eden Dreams gala in 2012. His inspiration for supporting the organization is driven by Eden’s mission to support individuals throughout their lifespan.
“I remember every time I would be with someone from Eden, they’d tell me about how they took care of the person for their entire life,” he said. “That stuck with me. Sometimes you’ll get a nonprofit that will take care of someone for only a period of time, but with Eden, it’s a lifetime of care.”