The Skinny Turkey Event engages Wakefield students, community


Staff Graphic by Sophia Fisher

The Skinny Turkey event brings together the Wakefield community as they advocate for mental health awareness in 2022.

Sophia Fisher, Arts and Entertainment Editor

12 years ago, Wakefield High School experienced multiple student deaths that were alcohol and drug-related. Concerned parties at the school decided to take action to support students in this time of struggle. After the death of one student who was killed in a drunk driving accident, Wakefield teachers and administrators started the Just Think First race to bring awareness to the reoccurring issue of driving safety. The race has since evolved into a massive campaign, known as the Skinny Turkey Race

Tony Calabria, an English teacher at Wakefield, worked with Vivian Wells, assistant principal of Wakefield at the time, to boost this campaign.

“We made videos and each year we targeted another topic,” Calabria said. “Initially we focused on bullying [as well as] drinking while driving but eventually [the videos] had to evolve with the times, like texting while driving.”

The campaign started at Wakefield but developed into an outreach program where the videos were sent to schools across North Carolina. However, when COVID-19 happened and Wells retired, the whole program faced a pause. Recently, Calabria has teamed up with Brent Dorenkamp, a fellow teacher and coach at Wakefield High School, to revitalize the program. 

“The goal of the race is to raise awareness with teenagers about the [dangerous] situations they can be put in,” Dorenkamp said. “Each year we ask students to be ambassadors for the Just Think First! program and they help with events, [such as the Skinny Turkey Race,] so that we can continue to keep the message out there.”

Although the initial Just Think First! committee was dissolved, current organizers for the race hope to bring in more parent and student volunteers to help keep the brand alive. The hope is to spark a conversation about these issues, and how to help the students facing them. High school students are the focus of this program so it is important that students are actively involved in the Skinny Turkey Race.

When kids volunteer for something bigger than themselves, it gives them a chance to step out of their comfort zone and gives them a chance to see that they are serving the community.

— Dorenkamp

“When kids volunteer for something bigger than themselves, it gives them a chance to step out of their comfort zone and gives them a chance to see that they are serving the community,” Dorenkamp said.

Many high schooler volunteers are drawn to the Skinny Turkey event as the race takes place in a familiar setting. The race starts right at the school and the path takes runners through Wakefield Plantation. Volunteers also get to pick who they work with, which makes it a great event to sign up for with friends. Some of the various tasks volunteers help with are passing out the participant numbers before the race, handing out water and food, and generally cheering for the runners as they go by. The race will take place on Thanksgiving morning, Thursday, November 24, and will be finished by noon so participants and volunteers get an exciting start to the holiday.

Stella Tekotte is excited to volunteer with the event after running the race in 2019.

“My favorite part [of the race] was participating with my family and friends,” Tekotte said. “I’m excited to again be a part of the positive atmosphere and volunteer alongside my friend.”

The Skinny Turkey Race is an event that goes beyond the school. Although the foundations are in the teachers and students, it has become a community known and loved event. 

“This event has become a family tradition,” Dorenkamp said. “As [students] have gone off to college and started their own families, they always come back and run the event again.”

Mackenzie Book is a student at Wakefield who has run in the race in previous years alongside her older sister, Madison Book. Madison Book has since gone to college but is returning to the area to run with her sister again this year. When asked about what she found interesting about this particular event, Mackenzie Book spoke of the wide variety of races offered, from a One-Mile Fun Run to a half marathon. 

“[The Skinny Turkey Race] caters to a wider range of people [than most other Thanksgiving races] and I think that is really cool,” Mackenzie Book said.