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Covington FUMC Steeple Chase 5K benefits special needs community

Covington FUMC 5K benefits Newton's special needs community

Runners line-up at the starting line for last year’s Steeple Chase 5K to presented by the Covington First United Methodist Church. The 2013 race takes place on Oct. 26 at 8 a.m., and proceeds benefit the special needs community. (Special Photo)

Runners line-up at the starting line for last year’s Steeple Chase 5K to presented by the Covington First United Methodist Church. The 2013 race takes place on Oct. 26 at 8 a.m., and proceeds benefit the special needs community. (Special Photo)

As part of its annual Change the World, Impact the Community Day, Covington First United Methodist Church will host the Steeple Chase, a 5K and one-mile fun run to benefit the special needs community in Newton County.

With its route winding through downtown Covington, the race is Oct. 26, beginning at 8 a.m. for the one-mile fun run and at 8:30 a.m. for the 5K race. There will also be a quarter-mile race for those with special needs.

Proceeds from the event will benefit three organizations that help those with special needs in the community with funds being divided among the Special Olympics, the Miracle League and Chimney Park, a 12-acre wooded site where volunteers are working to make the paths accessible to children and adults in wheelchairs.

Helping people with special needs is a lifelong passion for Jean Austin, who chairs Friends of Newton Parks, which oversees Chimney Park.

Austin, who taught special needs children for 31 years and spent another nine years working with parents of special needs children, said she is familiar with how much spending time outside can improve the lives of those with special needs.

“I understand their needs and the importance of them being outdoors and in green space,” she said, adding that schools cannot always provide that environment. “I’ve heard the research about them needing to be outdoors. That’s why I got involved in the park. That’s why I’m doing this.”

The park is situated behind the Newton County Library.

“Our goal is to develop an outdoor green space universally acceptable to all,” Austin said. “We are always very excited that anyone understands what we’re doing and wants to contribute to a park that we call a ‘park with a heart.’ We want to make it especially attractive to families with special needs children.”

The Miracle League, which is being built at City Pond Park will also benefit from the Steeple Chase that Saturday. The Miracle League project is underway with plans to open next spring with a universally accessible playground, ball fields and concession stand complex.

The Miracle League began in this area and today there are 250 Miracle League organizations in the U.S. and abroad serving more than 200,000 children and young adults with disabilities.

“We can’t wait to see it come to fruition,” the Miracle League’s Tamara Richardson said, adding that her group works closely with the other two groups benefiting from the Steeple Chase.

“I am so excited our church is choosing to highlight these groups that day,” she said.

Those wishing to help the Miracle League can also bring their tools and volunteer that afternoon after the race to help assemble playground equipment at the site at City Pond Park. Richardson said those interested may email her at trichardson@co.newton.ga.us to help with what is being called a community-build event, as members of the area volunteer for the project similar to how groups come together to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

The Special Olympics will also be a recipient of funds from the day’s race. Special Olympics is an international organization that has year-round sports training and athletic competition and other programs for more than 1 million children and adults with intellectual disabilities in more than 180 countries.

Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities opportunities to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy and friendship, according to a statement released by the Special Olympics organization.

Special Olympics serves more than 24,470 athletes in Georgia in 120 counties.

The Change the World, Impact the Community Day is filled with events and activities to benefit a number of projects in the county. To register for the Steeple Chase or to find out more about other activities that day, visit www.covingtonfirst.org.

Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Gwinnett County. Contact her at bethslaughtersexton@gmail.com.