Big Wheels Plus Little Kids Equal Lots of Fun
For the past eight years, children of all ages in Southwest Washington have had a good reason to look forward to the third weekend in May, because that's when - rain or shine - they get to go to Dozer Day.
Dozer Day is an annual, weekend-long fundraising event where the rides are heavy construction equipment. Kids get the real-world construction experience by hopping in the cab - with a professional operator at their sides - and drive bulldozers, excavators and other machines. About 20,000 guests attend Dozer Day every year.
Les Schwab Tire Centers has been a proud sponsor of the event for several years. The organization behind Dozer Day, the Nutter Family Foundation, shares Les Schwab's values: giving children opportunities to grow and develop their talents, and the importance of community.
"Whenever we need anything, Les Schwab is there," said Renee Nutter, the event organizer of the Nutter Family Foundation. "Like us, their basic attitude is, ‘We're going to knock it out of the park for them.'"
Les Schwab's signature contribution is the Tire Crawl, a large sandbox filled sand in which several giant tires the kind Les Schwab sells for tractors, earth movers and log loaders - are stacked up 5-feet high to give kids a place to climb while they wait their turn to drive one of the big trucks.
"The kids have a blast, and it gives me a good feeling to watch them," said Brien Rose, manager of the Woodland store. "Plus I get to hear their parents' Les Schwab stories, whether it's about just enjoying the free popcorn in the store or appreciating the donations and fundraisers we contribute to."
Les Schwab also hosted the pre-event Friday for disadvantaged or disabled children. This year, several hundred kids came from the Evergreen School District to explore the Tire Crawl and had their yellow construction helmets decorated with a Les Schwab sticker.
Like Les Schwab, the community does its part to make the weekend special for the kids. Members of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association volunteer as operators. Teens, ages 14 to 18, recruited from the key clubs and honor societies in local high schools, make up the other half of volunteers. They do everything from escorting the younger kids to and from the equipment to checking in with guests to make sure they're having a good time.
The Nutter Family Foundation teams up with individuals and local businesses that also share a passion for fostering kids' growth. For example, members of Portland YouthBuilders volunteer at the event. The nonprofit organization helps provide education, vocational training and leadership development service to low-income youth, is also a recipient of the foundation's grants.
Renee's goal when she started Dozer Day was to raise $1 million in 10 years, and according to Nutter, it looks like she'll exceed that goal a year early, but the kids will always be her primary focus.
"I remember in the first year, a little boy was crying his eyes out, so I checked in with his parents to see if he'd been hurt or if someone was picking on him," Renee said. "‘No,' his parents told me. ‘He's just mad because we have to leave.'"
Lucky for us, Dozer Day will be back next May, with another opportunity to put children in the driver's seat of heavy construction equipment, get to pitch in to help their neighbors and to have fun.