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Detroit — Participants in Detroit's fourth Santa Speedo Run showed some skin and a lot of holiday spirit Sunday raising money for the Greening of Detroit and the Ruth Ellis Center.

With temperatures in the mid-40s, dozens of half-dressed runners in festive outfits left Briggs Detroit, a gay-friendly sports bar, around 2 p.m. Sunday and took a one-mile loop around downtown before returning to the bar.

Jim Lee, 49, creator of Detroit’s version of the run, said he expected to do about a 12-minute mile. That’s how long it would, take, at least, if he didn’t plan to wait, per custom, until the very last participant crosses the finish line — and cross the line after them.

“No elf left behind,” said Lee, an eighth grade teacher.

“I think people enjoy stepping out of their comfort zone to go do something unique and different,” Lee said, when asked why he brought the event to Detroit. “And they can go back to their friends and be like ‘hey I did this’ and then the next year they come down and then it grows and it grows.”

The first run drew only four runners, all of whom are present for the fourth. Then 37 the next year and 52 last year. This year,  67 runners pounded the pavement.

Jennifer Fleming, 48, of Novi always had been interested in participating in friend Jim Lee’s event, but couldn’t make the timing work until Sunday.

Wearing a sparkly red jacket, a red Santa cap with costume mistletoe, and her daughter’s volleyball shorts, she and friends Erin Patrick and Lisa Whalen, also of Novi, enjoyed a laugh together in the cold in the minutes leading up to the run.

“The weather turned out perfectly today, so we’re ready to go, ready to roll,” said Patrick, 47.

Patrick’s training regimen consisted largely of lunges. Her training diet, coffee with some salted caramel Crown Royal.

Whalen, who gave her age as “49-ish,” is the most experienced runner of the trio, having completed multiple marathons, including the Free Press Marathon.

“I'm training for a marathon and this is a very important opportunity for me to train a little hard and fast today because it's cold and we're going to be running for our lives,” Whalen said.

Unlike the marathon, there were no numbers assigned or streets blocked off. Just a release form for runners to sign, a short, defined route to travel, and the opportunity to turn heads while braving the cold with a herd of people with other charity-minded runners.

Sunday's run raised $1,002 for two Metro Detroit groups working to improve the physical and social environment of the area, respectively: the Greening of Detroit and the Ruth Ellis Foundation, said Tim Moored, manager of the bar.

"It's fun," Moored said. "It's just fun — gay guys getting together and running."

Last year, participants helped the bar raise about $1,600, Moored said.

The Ruth Ellis Center, based in Highland Park, describes its work as "building positive futures with LGBTQ young people experiencing systemic and interpersonal barriers to housing, health, and wellness."

Since the late 1990s, the Ruth Ellis Center has been a safe haven for LGBTQ youth in the Detroit area, said Mark Erwin-McCormick, director of development for the nonprofit. That’s an extension of a mission Ellis began in the 1930s, Lee said, when she took in gay and lesbian youth in Detroit.

Its drop-in resources benefit youth in that community who are “experiencing homelessness, in the child welfare system, or have other barriers to care.”

The biggest problem LGBTQ youth face, he says, is “family rejection.”

“Every year we serve at least 500 unique youth through the drop-in center alone,” Erwin-McCormick said.  “We know that there are about 1.7 million runaway homeless youth in the United States,” 40% of whom are self-identified as LGBTQ,” he said. “Again, that’s most often due to family rejection. We also know that there are significant barriers in terms of housing and employment.”

Erwin-McCormick said the center operates a residential foster care in the city of Detroit specifically for attributes, and will launch a “43-unit permanent supportive housing program” next year. 

The Greening of Detroit is a nonprofit founded in 1989 to restore the city's tree infrastructure, according to its website.

Monica Tabares says the Greening of Detroit has planted some 130,000 trees over its 30-year history.

“Really, our efforts have been to reforest the urban canopy in the city of Detroit,” Tabares said. “But we’ve grown into so much more. We also provide environmental education and outreach to Detroit residents.”

Planting trees is only part of the mission — a big part, which benefits from the helping hands of 5,000 volunteers annually. Another is breaking down barriers to employment, particularly for youth, but also for “returning citizens” back home after incarceration.

“We work with individuals that already have trouble getting back into the system, teaching them the tools and resources needed to perform and be very successful in in the green job industry,” Tabares said. 

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