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Fun run/walk raises $40,000 for Challenged Child

POSTED: March 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Hundreds take part in Sunday's 16th Annual Challenged Child and Friends 5K Fun Run and One Mile Run/Walk at River Forks Park. Free food, drinks and T-shirts were offered to participants, with ceramic art and cash awards going to the top finishers of the 5K.

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Hundreds of runners, volunteers and children poured into River Forks Park Sunday afternoon for the 16th Annual Challenged Child and Friends 5K Fun Run and One Mile Run/Walk.

More than 450 runners participated in the event that raised $40,000 for Challenged Child and Friends Inc., a Gainesville school for both disabled children and their nonhandicapped peers. Multiple winners of the five kilometer race were awarded up to $200 in cash prizes. Winners also received pottery made by Robin Smith, who serves on the board of Challenged Child and Friends.

Kathy Cook, director of Challenged Child and Friends, said the school has 72 employees who serve more than 200 children who have diseases such as Down Syndrome, autism, spina bifida or cerebral palsy in nine Northeast Georgia counties. Cook said the foot race is one of the school’s biggest fundraisers, and this year’s race had the most runners and raised the most money in the event’s 16-year history.

Cook said the money raised from the event will supplement the school’s annual $2.2 million budget.

Gail Schneider is a fundraising coordinator for Challenged Child and Friends, and has served on the board of the school for nine years. She said the unprecedented turnout for the race illustrates how the program has grown since Jean Willers first started the program in 1983 with one handicapped student.

"Challenged Child has grown tremendously. We’ve outgrown three buildings," Schneider said. "It’s just been shown ... that we need to keep growing."

Malcolm Campbell of Marietta was the first runner to cross the finish line at the park adjacent to Lake Lanier. Campbell, who has completed seven marathons, finished the five-kilometer race in 16 minutes and two seconds. He said the race was the first of his running season, and he enjoyed the benefit of assisting a charity that helps children with special needs.

Donna Garcia, also from Marietta, said she was fifth to finish, but the first female runner to complete the 5-kilometer run.

"I was fifth overall, so four men beat me," she said. "This is my third year winning best female at Challenged Child and Friends. When you get to come out here and see all the kids who benefit from the race, it’s really great."

Ginnie Highsmith, 12, placed second in the 11 to 14-year-old group in the five-kilometer run. She said that, in addition to getting out and running, she participated in the race for the third year to help raise money for the children at the school.

"If I was one of the kids who had needs, I would want people to help me raise money to find a cure or help fund some stuff that would make me better," she said.

The next Challenged Child and Friends fundraiser will feature the Mid Life Crisis Band on May 5 at the Brenau Amphitheater.


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