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Event raises funds to locate missing persons with brain disorders

September 12, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN -- Randolph Samu remembers being jolted by the chilling story.

A few years ago, an elderly man left an area retirement community to walk to a nearby store. Then, he went missing.

The following day, the man was found dead on the property of a nearby water treatment plant. He appeared to have wandered off and died of natural causes.

"I was so saddened to think that someone could wander off and die," said Samu, 48, of Hagerstown.

That sadness was one reason why Samu participated Saturday in the second annual Tour de Park Linn Hendershot Memorial Bike Ride and Walk at Fairgrounds Park. The event was a fundraiser for a project called Project Lifesaver, which provides rapid response to locate missing persons with autism, Alzheimer's disease, Down syndrome and other brain disorders.

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Tour de Park was created by community activist and former Hagerstown City Councilman N. Linn Hendershot before his death in May 2008. Hendershot advocated for improved quality of life for individuals with disabilities, and worked with local emergency response agencies to implement Project Lifesaver in Washington County.

Honoring Hendershot's memory was another reason Samu wanted to support Tour de Park.

"This is a good way to memorialize Linn Hendershot. He was a great inspiration to me," Samu said. "He motivated me to become active in the community and to get involved in neighborhood organizations. Now, I enjoy volunteering immensely."

Samu was among 15 people with and without disabilities who completed laps around the park riding bicycles, tricycles, wheelchairs or even walking. Samu, who has neuropathy, parked his wheelchair and laid tracks with a Quickie Shark Handcycle, using his arms to peddle.

Project Lifesaver is an international program that is organized locally by MIHI (Many Individuals Helping Individuals).

Lynn Deibert, MIHI's Project Lifesaver coordinator, said Hendershot planned for Tour de Park to be an event where people young and old, with and without disabilities, could participate together. He established the annual MIHI Fishin' Frenzy and completed initiatives to install accessible playground equipment at area parks in the same spirit.

State Sen. Donald F. Munson honored Hendershot's memory at the event.

"(Hendershot) was a very decent human being, a man very concerned about his community and the people in it," Munson said. "He was very passionate and contributed many positive things during his lifetime."

Munson commended those present for "keeping it going."

Sondra Funk, an administrative assistant to Munson, said she was pleased to see Hendershot's vision for Project Lifesaver up and running.

"It's picking up steam," Funk said. "Now, we've got to get the information out to the people so they know the program is available."

Deibert said there are 12 local participants in Project Lifesaver. That is twice as many as last year at this time. The program uses radio frequency transmitters and receivers to locate and rescue people if they become lost. Deibert said transmitters cost about $300 and receivers are about $2,500.

"We are raising money to keep the project here in Washington County," Deibert said. "We want to keep it free to families who need it."

Tour de Park raised more than $2,000.

Twelve people from area agencies have received training in Project Lifesaver search and rescue, and three have completed helicopter training, Deibert said.

"Thankfully, we have not needed to do a live search and rescue yet, but there will come a time when it will be necessary," she said.

Mark and Mary Gonzalez of Hagerstown took theirs sons, Zachary, 17, and Joshua, 13, to the event. Joshua, who has Down syndrome, is a participant in Project Lifesaver.

"Joshua likes to explore. We sometimes really struggle with keeping track of him and the stress of that. When this was offered, we thought it would be good to have in place if, God forbid, he ever does get away from us," Mark Gonzalez said. "It gives us a little relief from that stress, especially at night."

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