Race for Riley approaches

Mon, 04/16/2007 - 8:27am
By: Ben Nelms

Race for Riley approaches

It takes more than courage to face some of life’s challenges. For Rodney and Waynette Peek, one of those challenges came three years ago when Mitochondrial Disease entered the life of their little girl. Bright-eyed and alert, Riley was only two years old at the time.

It was after Riley’s diagnosis that Waynette decided to hold the first of what has become an annual Race for Riley fundraiser at Georgia Baptist Children’s Home in Palmetto. Coming April 28, the 3rd annual Race for Riley will feature a 5K run/walk, one mile run and tot trot, along with games for kids, music, food and loads of family fun. The proceeds benefit The Joseph Sams School in Fayetteville.

Every year, the Race for Riley is a uniquely special event, nestled in the green rolling hills of south Fulton County. Born in love, it is an event that celebrates a life. It is an event that serves as a reflection of the spirit of the little girl for whom it is named.

Now at age five, this cute and animated little girl faces multiple challenges, including delayed development, muscle failure, gastrointestinal problems, abnormal brain function and the inability to speak. Rodney and Waynette live with the reality that a diagnosis of Mitochondrial Disease carries a current life expectancy that extends only to late childhood or early adulthood. Unlike the first two years where proceeds from the fundraiser went to United Mitochrondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF), Waynette and Rodney decided this year’s effort should benefit Riley’s school. Their reason was obvious.

“With Riley’s health we had several scares last year. Rodney and I started thinking about what benefits Riley the most. And it was such an easy answer. It was the Joseph Sams School,” Waynette said as she sat in the school library. “It teaches Riley so much, living her everyday life, the things she needs to know, some basic life skills and some lifelong skills. This school is our safe haven, for Riley and for us. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when I drop her off here that she’s taken care of and she’s loved. UMDF is a great foundation, but reality hit us when those scares came. More than likely there’s not going to be a cure for Mitochondrial Disease in Riley’s lifetime, which is hard to accept. But it makes you think and prioritize differently. And you know that the things she is getting here, day in and day out, are going to help her more than anything else that we can do for her.”

Funding for non-profits across America is often problematic, given political priorities and the wide range of organizations vying for the charitable dollar. Those realities make fundraising more critical. At The Joseph Sams School, nearly one-third of all income is from fundraising events, making the Race for Riley even more significant.

“This event is huge for us, especially in terms of our fundraising. And that is because fundraising itself is so huge,” said school program director Marie Sams. “One of our missions since the beginning is to try to make our services affordable to all families. It’s just expensive to provide the low student/teacher ratio that we do and have the speech, occupational and physical therapies. All of that is very costly, so we try very hard to keep tuition affordable, so our fundraising efforts each year are huge in order to fill that gap. The Race for Riley is a tremendous help to the organization and it will help a lot of families.”

Those who know Riley also know the light in her eyes and a spirit that is undaunted by the challenges she faces every day. One of those people is Trisha Matthews, Riley’s teacher.

“Riley is such a wonderful little girl, she’s so special to me. I think it’s really neat what the family is doing and how it will benefit the kids here at the school,” Matthews said, near the point of tears as she took a minute of instructional time to speak about her young student.

It does take more than courage to face some of life’s challenges. It takes love.

The 5K run/walk will begin at 8:30 a.m. rain or shine, followed by the one mile run at 9:15 a.m. and the tot trot at 9:30 a.m. Entry fees are $20 per person if pre-registered and $25 the day of the race. A host of other events will begin after the races have ended and will continue on into the day. For registration and other information on the 3rd annual Race for Riley contact www.raceforriley.org or www.josephsams.org

Georgia Baptist Children’s Home is located in Palmetto at 9250 Hutcheson Ferry Road. The Joseph Sams School is located at 280 Brandywine Boulevard in Fayetteville.

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