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Fall fills up with walks for a cause

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By Ethan de Seife

Observer correspondent

September 5th, 2013

The pleasant weather that accompanies the imminent change of seasons is appealing to many an outdoorsy Vermonter. This year, a number of local and national charity organizations offer multiple opportunities to enjoy the weather and support a good cause at the same time.

In the month of September alone, charitable groups in the area will host more than 10 runs or walks to raise funds; at least two more are coming up in October.

If this seems like an unusually high concentration of such events, the reason is at least partly meteorological. There is no better time of year in Northern New England to get outside and enjoy the weather, which promises to be sunny, brisk and mostly precipitation-free. The bounty of color-changing leaves is another reason that so many charitable organizations hold their walks in this area in early fall.

Among the first of these events to occur on the calendar is also one whose name—and namesake—may be unfamiliar: Sjögren’s Rockin’ 5K Trail Run and Walk, an event that raises money to fund research into Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects millions of Americans, mainly women. The disease, named for the Swedish ophthalmologist who first described it, is characterized by immune cells that destroy the glands that produce both saliva and tears. The condition showed up in headlines two years ago when tennis star Venus Williams withdrew from the U.S. Open due to fatigue and pain cause by Sjögren’s Syndrome.

Chris Vlangas, the development director for the Northern New England chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, said that most of the CFF’s walks around the country take place in May, but Burlington’s “Great Strides” walk gets special dispensation to occur in September precisely because of the favorable weather and beautiful foliage.

Weather notwithstanding, participation levels in the CFF walk have gone up every year, Vlangas said. No registration is necessary for this event—all are welcome to simply come out, walk for free, and learn more about cystic fibrosis and the CFF.

Like cystic fibrosis, ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—the motor neuron condition often called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”—is a disease for which there is no cure. Amy Coyne, fundraising and community relations manager for the Northern New England Chapter of the ALS Association, noted that the life expectancy for someone diagnosed with the disease is between one and five years, thus granting to the charity’s efforts a certain urgency.

Coyne noted that the Burlington area has a “very strong ALS community,” citing in particular Jim’s House, a Williston organization that makes its facilities available, for free, to anyone affected by ALS.

In the case of both the CFF and the ALS Association, there is no minimum amount that participants must raise. Coyne noted that the main purpose of the event—beyond raising money for research—“is providing support and hope and a happy day” for local residents whose lives have been affected by ALS. The only requirement that the ALS Association makes of its participants is that, if they wish to have a t-shirt from the event, they raise at least $75. “Before we instituted the minimum, we’d have hundreds of free t-shirts left over,” she said. The costs of those leftover free t-shirts affected the charity’s bottom line, which meant less money could be donated for research purposes.

Vermonters from across the state will join the fight against Alzheimer’s in The Vermont Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Shelburne Museum—one of five walks across the state that will help the Alzheimer’s Association, Vermont Chapter in Williston raise awareness and fund critical care and support services and research efforts.

Fundraising walks or runs are, Coyne said, the single most effective way for charitable organizations to raise money. Most people, she said, can participate—on foot or in a wheelchair—and it’s a good way to drum up involvement and support, while affording participants an enjoyable time with their families, friends and neighbors.

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