Sojourn Services hosted a day of fun, learning, and community bonding on Saturday in a scavenger hunt fundraiser, which helped support the countywide nonprofit.

Twenty teams participated in the first annual Crazy Race, an event that could best be described as a Santa Barbara version of The Amazing Race. Organized by Lisa Coker, child development specialist with Sojourn Services, the event raised money for county programs helping developmentally challenged adults and infants, as well as children with behavioral and mental health issues. Racing through San Luis Obispo to Santa Ynez, teams followed clues and completed challenges to find their way to the final destination, The Hitching Post restaurant in Casmalia. The first team to arrive received a trophy and $200 on top of their bragging rights for next year’s race.

Coker got the idea for the Crazy Race from a scavenger hunt she participated in several years earlier. “Well, I thought if there was that much cash raised because everyone was really interested in doing it, why not do it as a fundraiser?” Coker said. A native of the Santa Maria area, Coker organized the race to take contestants along points of interest throughout the county that are not well known and might inspire others to explore their surroundings more. As an added bonus, smaller prizes were hidden at a few of the locations for the lucky teams who found them, including Jamba Juice gift cards or gift certificates donated by Adore Hair Salon in Santa Maria.

The day began early with a 6:30 a.m. check-in and free pancake breakfast to energize all the contestants, cooked by volunteer Ron Fleenor of R&R Catering. Each team received a white Crazy Race t-shirt identifying them as participants, and a folder containing their first clue. At 8 a.m. they were off for a day-long scramble.

While all the teams were given the same clues, the challenges at each of the twenty locations staggered the race. Some teams blew through a task while others became stuck. Antony Malach recalls being delayed digging in the sand for a clue for almost an hour while other teams found their clues in a matter of minutes. The tasks could be as simple as taking a picture with the volunteer in Solvang dressed up as a traditional Dutch woman, as physical as racing through a garden labyrinth at Sycamore Hot Springs, or as mentally challenging as solving a 3-D puzzle. Teams moved ahead or fell behind depending on their strengths.

The teams quickly learned that if they saw anyone else wearing a Crazy Race t-shirt, they were probably all competing to find the same place. “You’d see one person with a white shirt, then six people with white shirts, and suddenly everyone was running!” Malach said. Trish Cox-Ladner and Bobby Ladner went undercover, figuring out that hiding their t-shirts kept anyone from following them.

Each team had their own way of getting through the day. Some of the volunteers, or just nearby employees noticing the strange amount of people wearing the same outfit, gave an assist or helped point teams in the right direction. The Ladners managed to arrange a golf cart ride to one of their destinations, while other teams trekked to the site. In this competition, it was all about finding the shortcut.

After a day complete with difficult tasks, car troubles, and surprise roadblocks, each team eventually made their way to The Hitching Post, known for its barbeque style menu. The Ostini Family, owners of the restaurant, generously provided a free meal for all the participants and volunteers to end their day with. Everyone slowly started showing up to the restaurant around 5 p.m., starting with Becky Silva and Natalie Ortega of team Twisted Sisters, the first place winners. After a long day of scrambling around and competing, everyone could sit, eat, and laugh together, recalling the funnier moments of the long journey.

“It tests relationships,” said Christine Coker, Malach’s partner. Competition can bring out tempers, as several of the teams learned, but it’s important to remember that the race is all for fun and a good cause. Once Coker and Malach, of team Running with Scissors, realized they were far from the lead they relaxed for a bit to get some ice cream. The two joked that they stopped competing and took their time for the sake of their relationship.

At the end of the day, everyone went home with at least one or two stories to tell, and in some cases, prizes. Next year, Coker hopes to get more teams involved and possibly benefit other nonprofit organizations. “It’s going to be a lot easier as the years go,” Coker said


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