At 7:45 a.m., on Saturday, May 17th, nearly 3,000 walkers gathered at Harrisburg Area Community College in Harrisburg, Pa., to participate in the 2014 Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community. Amidst the 45 participating nonprofits, the Center for Independent Living of Central Pennsylvania (CILCP) stood 89 walkers strong.
As CILCP’s Executive Director Theo Braddy vividly recalled the morning, “You could see the whole slow movement of people walking together. It was powerful.”
Established in 2003, the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community has grown rapidly and now occurs at five locations across Pennsylvania and Delaware annually. This past spring’s event marked nine years of participation for the Harrisburg location, during which the walk has raised approximately $1.7 million towards improving community health.
“We really wanted to see people who were walking and rolling—integrated from all different backgrounds,” said Braddy. And, his wish was granted. Participants included families, youth, seniors, service animals, pets, and friends, all with and without disabilities.
“Highmark is a champion in the community and country for diversity and inclusion,” said Highmark Walk Coordinator, Jodie Ruediger. “Our walk is all inclusive and accessible. We encourage everyone to participate together.”
As a smaller organization, CILCP has hosted annual fundraisers and walks in the past, but was thrilled at the chance to join such a prominent and established walk that didn’t incur high overhead and administrative expenses. Instead, Highmark plans and funds the walk so that each nonprofit can keep all of their funds raised.
While fundraising requires hard work, CILCP rose to the 2014 challenge. In fact, its SilverSneakers team, a program offered through CILCP, led the charge by raising nearly $3,300. In total, CILCP raised more than $15,000, placing 6th among organizations for money raised.
Ruediger feels that due to Highmark’s continued efforts, participating nonprofits develop skills to use in other fundraising events, commenting, “It goes beyond grants or sponsorship; it’s resource development.” She explained that it’s not about competing against each other for funding, but rather about joining together as organizations with different missions—and with walkers who are passionate about those missions.
Braddy also noted that events like the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community help to dispel myths and stereotypes concerning people with disabilities. Creating a setting where people with and without disabilities can interact and encourage each other fosters awareness and education, bringing to light previous misjudgments and unfounded assumptions.
“Only through continued interaction will those myths and assumptions be washed away,” he said.
CILCP is excited to continue these important conversations and experiences by participating in the walk next year too! “Jodie makes participating in the event so easy. She understands what needs to be done for organizations to be successful, and she meets you where you are,” said Braddy.
To learn about how you can support CILCP next year and join the walk, stay up to date with details at http://www.walkforahealthycommunity.org/whc3/hbg/index.shtml.