The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 21, 2012

MRCI Grand Prix a good way for families to get together

By Robb Murray
The Free Press

MANKATO — When it comes to multi-tasking, the Johnson family’s got it down.

They came to the MRCI Grand Prix this weekend to help raise money for a good cause: MRCI. But they also managed to do the thing they love to do most: spend time together as a family.

Ever since the race began seven years ago, the Johnsons have been there. Each year they’ve raced under the McGowan Water Conditioning team name (they’re good friends with Jack McGowan.)

The MRCI Grand Prix, an event where teams compete by racing go carts around a small track at the MRCI headquarters building, is a fundraiser for MRCI. Teams raise money beforehand and then compete at the races, mostly for fun. Money goes to offset costs for MRCI’s significant transportation costs. MRCI helps people with developmental disabilities find jobs, and often transports them to and from those jobs.

Brad Johnson said his mother worked with people with disabilities for 27 years at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center, so the cause is important to him.

“For us it’s a family event every year,” he said. “It’s another good reason to get together.”

For the past two years, part of that team has been Johnson’s daughter, Morgan. Last year, as a 16-year-old, she was at the youngest possible age to participate. This year, at 17, she was probably still the youngest driver.

And one of the best for Team McGowan, which won the event last year. Said her dad, “She was probably our best last year.”

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Morgan said. “And this brings so much money in for them. It’s fun to be able to bring people in town together.”

Matt Coulsey, MRCI’s communications manager, said that in the Mankato area alone, MRCI makes 200,000 one-way rides each year. Company-wide, it’s about 400,000. Annual transportation costs are about a half-million dollars annually, which is one of MRCI’s biggest costs.

“Because we lose a lot of money in that program, events like this can make a dent,” Coulsey said.

How much money will it bring in?

“We’re hoping to raise about $20,000 this year,” Coulsey said. “It’s a small dent, but it’s a dent.”

Mark Cramer, president of the MRCI Foundation, said the Grand Prix event has been a useful tool for raising awareness in the community about what MRCI does. As the event has grown, he said, more corporate sponsors have signed on.

The event has grown in team numbers, too. One year they had 54 teams signed up. That many teams, though, proved difficult to manage. In recent years they held it down to a more manageable 38.