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Walk America for

Healthy babies step-by-step

Healthy babies step-by-step

April 25, 2002|BY KEVIN CLAPP

kevinc@herald-mail.com

Ready for a walkabout, mate?

If so, grab comfy shoes, a hat and a couple of buddies to join the hundreds already committed to stamping out birth defects by placing one foot in front of the other.

Sure, Saturday's March of Dimes WalkAmerica event may pale in scope when compared to the aboriginal custom of exploration. Heck, at six miles, the morning walk is dwarfed by the original WalkAmerica, 25-mile day-long treks.

But its importance has never cast a longer shadow.

A baby is born every eight seconds in the United States. Three die each hour, and birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality. A baby with low birthweight is born every two minutes. More than one in nine births is preterm.

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March of Dimes works to combat these statistics, and WalkAmerica is the organization's largest fundraising tool.

In its 32nd year, WalkAmerica participants have raised more than $1 billion. In a down year, Washington County walkers generated $28,000 in 2001 to be used for local and national grants, educational purposes and advocacy.

"It's a good cause, for sure," says event co-chair Jim Pierne, president and chief executive officer of F&M Bank. "They've done a lot of good work in the community before and it's an organization I had always wanted to work with before but hadn't had the opportunity to."

Melissa Clark, community director at March of Dimes for Washington and Frederick Counties, anticipates that the approximately 800 walkers who gather at Long Meadow Shopping Center Saturday morning will collect $50,000.

"It's important simply because it affects every single child born in the United States, every single child born in Washington County," Clark says. "It's across the board. It's to make sure you have a healthy baby, and if you don't, it helps you solve the problem or adapt to the problem. It gives every baby a healthy start to life."

She knows first-hand the role March of Dimes fills. Clark's son was born seven and a half weeks premature and benefited from the organization's programs. At 5 1/2, he is a healthy young boy.

For the second year, CertainTeed Corp. customer service representative Debbie Everts will spearhead a team of 15 walkers from work. Last year they collected $3,000 and hope to match the amount this year, walking through Hagerstown in matching T-shirts.

While doing their part to support a worthy cause, Everts says the event also provides an opportunity for fellowship.

"We have fun. We talk, we gab," she says. "By the time we're done, we're all tired, we all have blisters and by the time we get back to work on Monday we talk about the fun we had."

And the fun doesn't end with the six-mile course that winds through Hagerstown, from the shopping center to City Park, to Hager Park and back to Long Meadow.

The walk will take most participants a couple of hours; filling out the 8 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m. event will be music, food and craft vendors. Entertainers will also pop up along the walking route, with a magician at City Park and face-painting by North Hagerstown High School students at Hager Park.

As operations chair for WalkAmerica, Scott Paddack is in charge of lining up entertainment for the event. For a decade he has volunteered in one way or another.

Aside from prizes for team walkers like Everts and the crew from CertainTeed, Paddack is also doing his best to involve local high schools in the event.

The school that raises the most money will have access to a high powered sound system for four hours on a night of their choosing. It could be used for the prom, or for another spring dance. Paddack says it is a chance for students to enjoy a benefit from helping to save babies.

As for himself, he just enjoys working to bring people together for a common cause.

"It's a worthwhile organization and they do a lot of good with the money that's raised," Paddack says about his continued involvement with WalkAmerica. "Let's face it: Kids are a treasure that we need to protect, and March of Dimes does a lot with prenatal education."

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