Over 26,000 runners are expected to participate in Saturday’s 2013 Baltimore Running Festival for a variety of reasons, but 143 participants have the same goal in mind.
As members of “Team CASA,” the official charity team of the Towson-based Maryland Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association, they are participating to help Maryland victims of child abuse and neglect. CASAs are trained volunteers who are appointed by the court to represent the best interests of victims of child abuse and neglect.
Ranging in age from 11-71, Team CASA members hail from all over Maryland, as well as Brighton and Hingham in Ma.; La Jolla, Ca., Chantilly and McLean, Va.; Spring Grove and Glenside, PA, and Washington, DC.
Some are fairly new to running, which is the case with Lauren Kensky of Fells Point, who will participate in the 5K. She took her first run Apr. 15, the same day that her cousin, Jessica Kensky Downes (32), and Jessica’s husband, Patrick Downes, (30), were injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. The newlywed couple had their left legs amputated below the knee, and Jessica’s right heel was amputated as well.
Prior to the tragic events of the Boston Marathon, Kensky “hated” running. Her perspective has changed: as Kensky’s cousins continue to recover, their courage and determination have inspired her to stick with it.
“There is absolutely no reason [for me] to complain about running,” Kensky says, “because when you least expect it, your life can change forever and you may not be able to run again with your own two legs.”
Race day will be a physical and emotional challenge, but Kensky remains determined. “I never want to take my ability to run for granted again.”
Kenksy decided to run for Team CASA because of her work with Baltimore City Public Schools as a paraeducator for children with learning and behavioral disabilities. This work has opened her eyes to the “harsh realities” facing our local youth and the need for safe, supportive homes.
Like Kensky, Sandra-Lynn Berson of Potomac also is participating in honor of someone dear to her.
She is leading a team named for her longtime friend and neighbor, Heidi Brown, who passed away suddenly in May of melanoma.
Comprising approximately 20 of Brown’s friends and family, most of them from Montgomery County, “Team Heidi,” will run the 5K race.
“Heidi was like the grandmother of her neighborhood and was loved by all,” said Berson, a CASA volunteer who recently joined the Maryland CASA board of directors. ”She had an open home always filled with children and neighbors and [would have done] anything for anybody.”
“Every child should have an adult like Heidi in their life,” said Berson, who has advocated during the past two years for 1) a teenager who recently graduated from high school and is now pursuing further education and living independently, and 2) a four-year-old transplant patient.
Others like Glenn Zior of Mt. Airy are continuing to lend their support as experienced Team CASA members.
For the fourth year in a row, Zior will “hike” the half-marathon, wearing a backpack and donning a Team CASA banner.Zior, who is the vice president of Sensible Software, has been a volunteer advocate with CASA of Frederick County for five years and served on three cases. He decided to become a CASA because he wanted to help those children who are most in need.
“Children in foster care are not there by their own choice and are victims of their circumstances,” said Zior, who also supports CASA by building and displaying an elaborate holiday light show at his home and donating the proceeds to the non-profit.
Today in Maryland, more than 10,000 children are under the protection of the courts as a result of abuse and neglect. Most live in temporary foster homes and institutions, where they wait an average of three years before reaching safe, permanent homes.
“We commend all the members of Team CASA,” said Ed Kilcullen, Maryland CASA state director. “Their dedication will help us recruit more trained, committed advocates to ensure every child in Maryland their right to a safe, permanent home.”
Top fundraisers on Team CASA, as well as those who reach designated fundraising levels, will receive prizes, including hotel stays in Ocean City, Annapolis and Baltimore, and restaurant gift cards.
Team CASA is asking for the community’s support to reach its goal of raising $50,000. To make a financial contribution or for more information, visit www.goteamcasa.org or call 410.828.6761.