If the Special Children’s Center has one message to impart to the community, it’s that these kids can do anything. With that in mind, SCC volunteer Adele Laboz had an idea: Why not give them the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a real New York race? The Achilles Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for the disabled. Together with New York Road Runners they created a day where hundreds of people with different challenges and disabilities could enjoy the benefits of a “Race for Hope and Possibility.” Adele is an avid runner and knew it would be spectacular. Right away she set out to get her friends and running partners in on the action. And one Sunday morning in June of last year at 6:30 AM, excited SCC kids boarded a bus to Central Park with many volunteers alongside them.
“It doesn’t matter what the handicap is,” Adele explains, “This is a celebration of running. Some walked, some ran, some were pushed in wheelchairs or rode bicycles and some, surprisingly, even ran the five-mile race in its entirety. The kids went crazy when they got the medals at the end; they never imagined they’d get one. It didn’t matter if they finished first or last. Everyone was a winner. No matter how they did it, it felt good. It was an emotional and amazing day.”
In their matching t-shirts with their official bibs and numbers, every child felt important. This was a real race with hundreds of people cheering and encouraging the kids every step of the way. One father of twins explained, “I am a runner so I work with my kids at home, but to be at a real Road Runner race with them, to be able to share that experience, it was incredible. They worked hard, it took almost two hours, it was hot and they were tired, but the volunteers really connected with them and at every turn there were people from the Achilles Foundation cheering them on. To hear their names chanted by crowds of people…to get a medal at the end…it’s an amazing feeling, for them, and for me.”
Effie Harary, Adele’s sister, helped her with much of the organizing. She recalls, “The volunteers were phenomenal! There were people of all ages who came to help out, moms, grandmothers… You didn’t have to be fast, you just had to want to help. The child who I was assigned to had leg braces. He was in a chair, but at every mile marker he would get up and skip, just to know that he ran a little bit of every mile. He kept saying, ‘You know, this is my first marathon, I can’t believe I’m doing it!’ He felt so proud of himself, and he loved when they cheered his name…especially when some of the other Jewish groups screamed ‘Shalom!’ He couldn’t imagine there were other Jewish organizations there like ours! It was really nice being out there in the park with the kids…so motivational…these kids are truly challenged, for some it was a big deal just to stay focused for five miles…Watching them, you can’t help but think that if they can do it, what’s your excuse?”
Carol Chera, a friend of Adele’s who often comes in to volunteer at the Center, brought two of her kids with her to the race. They loved the day. “I wanted my kids to be a part of the race; to see it and to feel the charge of it. Its so interesting to see so many disabled people pushing themselves. The child I was assigned to was amazing! He was so proper and well mannered. He started out walking, and then bikes started to pass by us and I asked him if he wanted to run a little. He said ‘yes,’ so I asked him ‘when,’ and he answered, ‘today.’ Then I asked him ‘what time,’ and he looked at his watch and it was 9:00, and he can tell time so he said, ‘9:00…ok, maybe 9:01.’ He was so funny, but then he started running, fast! My girls had started out with us but they couldn’t even keep up! He left them in the dust, and he and I finished together…it was incredible! The whole experience was beautiful. I crossed the finish line crying. It’s an amazing sense of accomplishment. With these kids the word special really goes a long way.”
Cindi Gindi is an avid runner and yet another friend of Adele’s. She cried as she recounted the day. “The first time I came to volunteer at the Center I started to cry. I felt bad for the kids and I didn’t know if I could handle it, but I pushed myself. The kids were so happy and so loving; you can’t help but put your life in perspective after spending time with them. Within five minutes I forgot that they had disabilities and was just playing with them. At the race it was amazing just seeing the smiles on their faces as they crossed the finish line; really priceless. I know what it is to run in Central Park. It is a difficult and hilly course and the crowds are intimidating; it’s no joke. If you’re not a runner its hard to understand, but its really a big deal. My friend Carol was running with a boy who just took off like a rocket ship! But if you saw the look on his face- his eyes…they came alive…he was a natural, a superstar! This type of experience is so healthy and beneficial for these kids. What struck me most though were the volunteers. Adele and Effie are amazing and incredible people who are always so giving…but, to see strangers come out and become a part of this, holding a child’s hand and being on their feet for hours, to see fourteen year old kids give up their Sunday and get up at the crack of dawn to help out – it reminds you that there is truly good in people. It is heartwarming.”
The joy of being a volunteer for the Special Children’s Center is infectious. The happiness the children share, and their innocence and beauty are uplifting in a way nothing else is. Carol continues, “Every time I volunteer I forget how good it’s going to feel and how much I get out of it. When I leave I am always changed, and always for the better.”
The Center is constantly trying to better the lives of the children that spend their time in their care. Each day, event and excursion is designed to enhance the education and experience of everyone present, volunteers included. This day in particular truly fills everyone involved with the “hope and possibility” it promises.
This year’s race is on June 24th @9:00 in Central Park. If you are interested in joining our family, helping out, or just coming to cheer the children on please contact Effie Harary at [email protected] or Cindi Gindi, [email protected]