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Charities Continue to Benefit From Covered Bridges Half Marathon



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hanover — Some of the Upper Valley’s most prominent charities deal with serious issues such as homelessness, domestic violence and children receiving intensive care treatment.

At the Covered Bridges Half Marathon, those organizations have been able to run the picturesque course while uniting to raise vital funding.

Now in its 26th year, the race has long donated much of its proceeds to municipal and youth groups in the area. For the last 13 years, it also has welcomed charity teams, whose members are exempt from the popular race’s lightning-quick registration fill-up in exchange for pledging to raise money for the organizations they represent.

The event has become the largest annual fundraiser for David’s House, the home-away-from-home for families whose children are being treated at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth. It’s also one of the largest for nonprofits such as Norwich-based parent/child center The Family Place, the Upper Valley Haven homeless shelter and food pantry in White River Junction, and WISE, the Lebanon-based center for sexual and domestic violence education and prevention.

The CBHM began offering a team fundraising model in 2005, when director Bill Blaiklock reached out to Dartmouth College athletics financial administrator Jane Lemire after learning of her efforts to raise funding for Alzheimer’s disease treatment programs. Lemire’s mother, Nancy Parisi, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 62 and lived with it for 17 years.

“It takes something negative and makes something positive out of it,” said Lemire, who didn’t put together a team this year, but still plans to run Sunday’s race. “Alzheimer’s is very damaging to families, caregivers and society in general, but there are a lot of things you can do (to make it easier).”

Funding raised through CBHM’s Team Alzheimer’s over the years benefited Memory Cafe social groups, the aging center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and “music and memory” programs that reacquaint Alzheimer’s patients with their favorite songs.

“We were able to buy iPods for patients and upload their favorite music after speaking with their families,” Lemire said. “In some cases, (patients) couldn’t even talk, but music is something that you never forget. So we’d play this music and their faces would come alive.”

Team Alzheimer’s proved to be far-reaching, drawing one runner from England and many from throughout the Northeast and beyond.

Gathering to meet and socialize pre- and post-race, those on Team Alzheimer’s coalesced through being burdened by a disease that is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and beckoned more than 18.2 billion hours in unpaid care in 2016, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“It’s important to be able to talk to others, whether it’s other people who were caregivers (for Alzheimer’s patients) or relatives, so that you don’t feel alone,” Lemire said. “People share stories with one another, and it’s very cathartic. And I think that goes along with the running. Running itself is a very cathartic activity.”

Team David’s House joined CBHM five years ago, and the race has quickly became its No. 1 annual fundraising source, generating as much as $25,000 per year.

“We’re always looking for new fundraising opportunities, and this one has been very good for us since it presented itself,” said Brandi Vassiliou, whose facility has hosted more than 13,500 families since opening in the 1980s and charges no fees for housing, food or laundry. “It’s proof that if you stick with something, you can really make a difference. Some of our runners might have used David’s House or know someone who’s used it, but it’s also great for runners who might get shut out of the race (because of its quick registration fill-up) and who like the idea of benefiting a local charity.”

The Family Place, which provides families in need with services such as developmental therapy, case management and prevention education, is in its seventh year fielding a team and has drawn as many as 50 runners to previous teams.

“There are a lot of people who run it who have used Family Place, which is an awesome thing to see,” communication and development associate Hali Issente said. “There might be someone, for example, who received early intervention treatment and saw a specialist for speech therapy and wants to give back. There are a lot of personal stories that go around, which kind of reinforces the importance of the work we do.”

That sentiment was echoed by WISE development director Laura Rice, whose team is running CBHM for the third time and carrying 25 runners.

“There’s a sense of camaraderie among all of the charity teams, because they believe so strongly in what they’re running for,” Rice said. “Those who run for our team really believe in what we do to prevent sexual and domestic violence. There are a lot of runners who’ve done it all three years for us.”

Positive Tracks, a Hanover-based nonprofit aiming to empower youth through athletic endeavors, has a CBHM team for the first time and has already raised more than $16,500 of its $20,000 goal. That’s enough that it’s already likely to be the organization’s most fruitful single fundraiser this year, according to founder and president Nini Meyer.

“It’s great, because we have a lot of the kids who use our programs doing it, so all of the adults will be running alongside someone whom our programs support,” said Meyer, whose 17-year-old son, Jasper, is the youngest runner on the team. “Needless to say, we’re really excited.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.