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March of Dimes kicks off campaign

February 06, 2004|by Alicia Notarianni

alician@herald-mail.com

Premature birth, the leading cause of newborn death and a major cause of lifelong disability, rose 27 percent between 1981 and 2001. More than 460,000 babies are born prematurely each year. In nearly half the cases, the cause is unknown.

The March of Dimes responded in 2003 with a national campaign to fight premature birth, setting a goal to reduce the rate of premature birth by 15 percent before 2007.

The Washington County March of Dimes is doing its part. On Wednesday, Feb. 4, about 60 people gathered in the Cumberland Room of The Plaza Hotel to kick off Washington County's WalkAmerica 2004 campaign.

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WalkAmerica, the March of Dimes' most lucrative fund-raiser, takes place in nearly 1,100 communities in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Community businesses and organizations form teams of walkers who earn money through sponsorships.

The March of Dimes uses funds to research causes and preventions for prematurity, to support community programs that address the needs of local women, babies and families, to provide education to help pregnant women prevent premature birth and to provide training for health-care providers to better identify women who are at risk for premature birth.

"We all can take on a vital role in saving babies in our community," said Ron Krisulevicz, master of ceremonies and news anchor at NBC 25, a Western Maryland division WalkAmerica sponsor.

Krisulevicz encouraged local business owners to get involved, pointing out that participation in WalkAmerica demonstrates an interest in the community, boosts employee morale and provides valuable company exposure.

Jim Piern, co-revenue chairman for Washington County WalkAmerica and chairman of the board at Farmers & Merchants Bank and Trust, a corporate sponsor of the event, said last year's event raised about $68,000. When Piern began as co-chairman three years ago, proceeds were $27,000.

"We increased revenue by asking community people to take part in the walk, by getting companies to sponsor teams and expanding the number of teams," Piern said.

The official goal for this year is $75,000, though Piern says he thinks earnings of $100,000 could be possible if participants act as ambassadors and drive enthusiasm.

Melissa Clark, community director of the March of Dimes Maryland chapter - Western Maryland division, presented awards to WalkAmerica 2003 participants. The top team award for both Washington County and the state of Maryland went to Citigroup.

Joanne Berdine, co-captain of the Citigroup team, said, "I'm lucky enough to have two full-term healthy children. I want to reach a day when everyone can say that."

Also during the luncheon, Clark announced Washington County March of Dimes grant awards for area agencies that promote healthy babies and families. Recipients were the Boys & Girls Club of Washington County for the Teens Making Smart Moves program, the Exchange Club Parent-Child Center for the Teen Voices, Teen Choices program and the Washington County Health Department for the Healthy Families program.

Washington County's WalkAmerica event will take place Saturday, May 5, beginning at Long Meadow Shopping Center. For more information, contact Melissa Clark at 301-772-3867.

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