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Hattiesburg Race Funds ‘Support System’ for Mississippians with Disabilities, their Families

Hattiesburg Race Funds ‘Support System’ for Mississippians with Disabilities, their Families

Ask Jean Hendley of Hattiesburg, Miss., what The Arc of Southeast Mississippi means to her and her family and she’ll tell you it’s more than just a place for people with disabilities.

“They’re our family, they’re our friends, they’re our support system,” said Hendley.

Hendley’s son, Ryan, is 23-years-old and lives with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. The condition occurs in 1 out of every 3,600 male infants, according to the National Institute of Health.

Hendley, a retired special education teacher, said her life took a drastic turn when she realized her son had the disorder.

“It took me a while to realize and to come to terms that he had a disability,” said Hendley, who also has two older children.

She said coming to The Arc for the first time more than 20 years ago was a defining moment in the lives of she and her family.

“Once we came to The Arc, we were a part of an organization of children who had disabilities. That gives you a support system and that gives you a place to feel like you belong…The Arc helped me come to terms with what I needed to come to terms with about Ryan and with Ryan.”

Through that support system, Hendley says Ryan has found a safe place to go during the day where she knows he is well taken care of.

“It gives him somewhere to go where he has peers that are like him.”

Once Ryan graduated from high school, he began attending The Arc’s Rise & Shine program, an all-day adult program for local adults living with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Through the program, Ryan and others like him are able to receive further education and participate in social and recreational activities.

“He comes usually three or four days a week. It’s like college to him. It’s been a continuation of his education and he feels like it gives him something to do after he’s been in school, because he likes routine. And these are his friends. He’s made new buddies,” said Hendley.

Ryan and his friends enjoy art activities, bowling, field trips, pottery classes and so much more through the Rise & Shine program. But his favorite part is snack time, and his favorite snack – Cool Ranch Doritos.

The program is supported by Hattiesburg Clinic’s annual Rise & Shine Half-Marathon & 5K, which was started by one of the clinic’s employees more than six years ago and has since grown in community participation and donations. And just as the race, itself, has grown, so has the program it inspired.

“We began the Rise & Shine program in 2013 with the intention of a part-time program for approximately 10 individuals with disabilities. We immediately saw the need for a full-time program, and we experienced rapid growth,” said Cindy Pennington, executive director for The Arc. “Because of the generous donations from the Rise & Shine Half-Marathon & 5K, we serve 50 adults with disabilities five days per week and offer fabulous programming experiences for them.”

Following the 2017 race, more than $30,000 was donated to The Arc, surpassing the $100,000 mark for funds raised from the event since it began.

But Pennington said it’s about more than the money the program receives; it’s about the experience.

“It benefits us beyond a money figure by making our organization a vital part of such a tremendous community event,” she said, noting the awareness it raises for individuals with disabilities.

Susan Yarrow, public relations manager for Hattiesburg Clinic, has been helping organize the race since its inception. She said the event is a time for the community to come together for a good cause.

“The race is so important to this program. It’s a fun, family friendly event and it gives these adults a chance to have relationships like we all need and desire. It gives them the quality of life they deserve,” said Yarrow.

Hendley said without the Rise & Shine program, a lot of people like Ryan would be sitting at home with nothing to do.

“They need somebody to watch them and they need somebody to talk to and they need somebody with them. And they enjoy being around others; so this is really, really good for them to have people around them, to have a routine,” she said.

She said the program helps give parents and caretakers a peace of mind.

“It really eases your mind, especially if you’re a working parent, to know that you have somewhere for your adult child to go where you know they’re taken care of, that they’re loved.”

Hendley said it’s people like those who participate in the race who help keep the program going.

“I just love seeing all the people come out in the community to run and do that. I think everybody running, especially running for a good cause, such as our Rise & Shine Program, is just wonderful and I hope a lot of people come out to support it this year.”

Ryan said he also enjoys the race and will be at the event this year representing The Arc’s Rise & Shine program, adding that he likes the music that’s performed there each year.

The 7th Annual Rise & Shine Half-Marathon & 5K will take place Saturday, April 7, 2018, beginning at 7 a.m., at Hattiesburg Clinic’s main campus in Hattiesburg. Additionally, the annual Rise & Shine Expo, a health and fitness fair, will be held that Friday, April 6, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

For more details about the race, visit www.hattiesburgclinic.com/halfmarathon. To learn more about The Arc of Southeast Mississippi and its programs, visit www.hattiesburgarc.com.

Katie Townsend

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