Rise & Shine race goes far beyond dollars

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, March 29, 2017

HATTIESBURG, MISS. – My “half-marathon” days began approximately 30 years ago. I use the term half-marathon only as an analogy of the race that I have taken on in my journey with The Arc of Southeast Mississippi. In the late 1980s, I began working in The Arc’s Summer Adventure Program as a teacher and assumed various other roles over the years.

I currently serve as executive director, where my role is to oversee the daily operations of the organization, including programming, personnel and financial operations. However, my true joy comes from when I actually get to work directly with the participants.

The Arc is a nonprofit United Way agency that relies on fundraising, grants, programming fees and contributions to provide the level of programming made available to individuals with disabilities. We have the Rise and Shine program that has offered a more active and social life to adults with disabilities.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

We began this program in 2013 with the intention of a part-time program for approximately 10 adults with disabilities. We immediately saw the need for a full-time program as we experienced rapid growth. Because of the generous donation from Hattiesburg Clinic’s Rise & Shine Half-Marathon & 5K, we now serve 35 adults with disabilities five days per week and offer fabulous programming experiences for them.

Although there are programming fees associated with the Rise and Shine program, The Arc still incurs a significant deficit. Many of its members would be unable to attend if the organization raised program fees. Fortunately, the Rise & Shine Half-Marathon & 5K raises a significant amount of funding, enabling us to afford this full-time program. This factor, alone, stresses the importance of the race. However, it truly goes far beyond the dollar.

The participants, parents and staff feel that the race is such a huge event for our community as a whole. It is the only half-marathon in our area and that is such a significant point for runners. The race is an opportunity for us to allow some of our members with disabilities to be an active participant and finish a half-marathon or a 5K as a rider in our newly donated race wheelchairs.

Their parents have never dreamed of them participating in a race of this magnitude, so imagine how they feel when they see their child cross the finish line being pushed by individuals who provide ability in disability. Through this race, they see that people in our community are not focused on self, but truly giving to others.

In addition, The Arc participants are impacted because they are simply included. Our participants make the pottery for the winner prizes. They also design a commemorative race T-shirt by providing the artwork. They are asked to personally hand out the pottery items to all racers. It’s an opportunity for The Arc to be showcased as a vital part of our community. Hopefully, we can reach families who are in need of our services and create awareness of individuals with disabilities.

The Rise & Shine is an event that our community should be proud to call our own, and residents should get out and offer support as a runner, volunteer or simply by attending the Expo or the race. It’s not often that we see a half-marathon running through our streets! The Arc members are humbled by the numerous volunteers from Hattiesburg Clinic who put in countless hours to hold an event of this magnitude.

This year’s event will take place on Saturday, April 1, at Hattiesburg Clinic’s main campus. The half-marathon will start at 7 a.m., and the 5K will start at 7:30 a.m. To register for the race, visit hattiesburgclinic.com/halfmarathon. Participants are also encouraged to attend the 2nd Annual Rise & Shine Expo on Friday, March 31, at the USM Payne Center, where they will pick up their race bags and T-shirt. The expo is from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and will feature various health and fitness vendors and activities. The Arc participants will also be there selling pottery. The general public is welcome to attend.

It’s significant to note that no matter where you finish in this race, you are a winner. And no matter what role you take to make the event a success, you, too, are a winner. It is a well-done event based on hours of hard work and hundreds of volunteers who have chosen to make a difference.

Visit The Arc website at www.hattiesburgarc.com or Facebook at The Arc of Southeast Mississippi or maybe even visit one of our programs. You will see what a difference you are making in the lives of individuals with disabilities just by being a part of this community event. You will also see that individuals with disabilities embrace each day as an opportunity to rise and shine.  They rise when it’s not always easy and they shine through daily struggles. That’s why they are great.

Thank you for choosing to RISE and SHINE!

Cindy Pennington

Executive Director, The Arc of Southeast Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Miss.