GREENFIELD — A lot of 5K events collect money for a good cause, but few allow participants the chance to send young people on a trip of a lifetime.

The Sister Cities of Greenfield 5K does just that.

Held along the Pennsy Trail each August — but held virtually the past two years due to COVID — the 5K raises funds to send Greenfield-Central students and chaperones on a 10-day trip to Greenfield’s sister city in Kakuda, Japan.

Sister Cities of Greenfield was formed in 1990 when former Greenfield mayor Keith McClarnon established the Sister Cities relationship with Kakuda after a Japanese auto parts manufacturer — Indiana Physician Technology — came to town. The company had a facility in Kakuda.

Student delegations from grades 7-11 started traveling between the two cities in 1992.

Greenfield students traditionally traveled to Kakuda in June while Kakuda students have traveled to Greenfield in August, but those trips were halted two years ago due to COVID restrictions.

Lyndi Grubb, Sisters Cities of Greenfield president, said she hopes to hear from the nonprofit’s Japanese counterparts this fall as to whether travel will once again be possible next year.

The international travel program offers a wealth of opportunities for local students to immerse themselves in the local culture while staying with local host families, she said. The trip generally concludes with a two-day stay in Tokyo.

Grubb said students from Kakuda get the same opportunity to immerse themselves in American culture when they visit Greenfield.

In 2018 the group from Japan visited a mural that was being painted by local artists along the Pennsy Trail, just east of Center Street. The students took turns signing their names and Japanese emblems on the mural, which features a banner that reads “Nakama” — Japanese for friend.

The Sister Cities 5K takes participants right past the mural, and begins and ends at the Sister Cities Japanese pagoda on the Pennsy Trail.

This is the 10th year for the annual 5K.

Grubb is thrilled to host the Sister Cities 5K in person once again this year and hopes the nonprofit raises enough money to help fund trips for roughly 10 students and three chaperones to travel to Kakuda next year.

While students still need to pay for a portion of the trip, “in the past, it’s typically been less than the cost of a plane ticket,” she said.

Grubb said the Sister Cities program wouldn’t be possible without the continued support of the City of Greenfield, which contributes money to the program each year.

When the travel program resumes, Briggs said Greenfield-Central students will be notified of the opportunity and encouraged to apply.

“We also have scholarships for those who can’t afford to pay, so students of any means can go,” she said.

Sister Cities board member Chuck McMichael, deputy chief of the Greenfield Police Department, said the nonprofit’s cultural exchange trips leave a lasting impact on both students and chaperones.

“I think one of the biggest things that still stands out to me today is just how similar our kids were to Japan’s kids,” said McMichael, who chaperoned the trip in 2015.

“None of our kids spoke Japanese and very few of their kids we interacted with over there spoke English, but we watched them play games together and do activities and crafts and cook and things — with nobody speaking the same language and coming from presumably complete different backgrounds. It was amazing to see just how well everybody got along and were able to communicate without words.”

Grubb had the same experience when she chaperoned in 2006.

“It gives students the opportunity to see another part of the world and gives them an understanding that, although we have differences, we are all the same,” she said. “We may do things differently, but in the end, we are all the same and make connections. It gives our students a very hands-on world view.”

McMichael, whose father used to travel to Japan on business when he was a kid, said his trip to Kakuda still brings back fond memories seven years after he went.

“Many of our board members traveled as students many years ago, and we’re now seeing (past students) come back and chaperone. Some of the students who traveled 20 years ago have kids who have joined the program. It’s great to see those relationships continue,” he said.