Mississippi State University’s T.K. Martin Center for Technology & Disability is hosting their annual Fun Run at 6 p.m. Friday. This year’s theme is “Trick or Trot” and participants are encouraged to embrace the Halloween spirit by coming in costume.
T.K. Martin Center Director Kasee Stratton-Gadke said the Fun Run is the Center’s largest fundraiser. Proceeds from the run will go towards Project Impact, the Center’s preschool program that focuses on early-intervention education and development of children with special needs.
“We have about 45 students in that program who are not otherwise best served at their school district or because of their medical complexities need a really small location, and we have specialized training where they meet with special education teachers and we also provide occupational, physical and speech therapy within those classrooms too,” Stratton-Gadke said.
Last year, the Fun Run raised $25,000, and Stratton-Gadke said she is hopeful the center will meet this year’s goal of $30,000.
The run is sponsored by various businesses and organizations in the community, with Cadence Bank being one of this year’s largest sponsors.
“Cadence bank is our primary sponsor this year and they’ve really helped us out in more ways than one in making sure this event can happen and have been a top contributor to that $30,000 goal,” Stratton-Gadke said.
Along the course of the Fun Run, which will begin in front of the T.K. Martin Center, various organizations and groups will set up at cheer stations to encourage the children and families as they pass.
One of these organizations, the T.K. Martin Ambassadors, an MSU student group dedicated to raising awareness and support for the T.K. Martin Center, will man a cheer station. Molly Guillory, a senior psychology major and the president of the T.K. Martin Ambassadors, described the role of volunteers in the run.
“We have sections blocked off for each organization to just cheer on the kids and the families as they do the run, and so it’s really cool. The kids all wear name tags so you can call out their name and just encourage them and it means a lot to them and they get really excited—so just kind of be there and cheer them on as they do this because it’s not something that’s easy for a lot of them,” Guillory said.
Laura Watley, a parent of a child that attends the T.K. Martin Center and one of the principal organizers of the Fun Run, said the event’s emphasis is less on athleticism and more on socializing and having a great time with family and friends.
“I always say that it’s a fun run and the fun part about it is that you don’t really run,” Watley said.
Stratton-Gadke said Project Impact can help children achieve what was never thought possible and funding received from the Fun Run helps make these services possible.
“In speaking on this program, we have parents who knock on our door every year hoping their child can get into a program like this and begging us to never let them leave because they’re so thrilled with what the services are,” Stratton-Gadke said.
Watley said, while her family moved to Starkville so her daughter could attend the T.K Martin Center, they had no idea the impact the Center would have on their child.
“T.K. Martin has changed our lives because the dreams and the hopes and the aspirations I had for (my child)–they’re making them a reality. Having a child with special needs, that is the greatest gift that anyone could give our family,” Watley said.
Stratton-Gadke said early-intervention is very important in a child’s development, and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing those who used to be in the program achieve the long-term goals toward which they were striving.
“Our mission is to make sure that individuals are able to participate in their academic, employment life, social life in general to the fullest extent that they want to. That’s our mission in a nutshell, and so being able to provide early intervention services that set you on the path for success is super important to us,” Stratton-Gadke said.
In addition to the T.K. Martin Ambassadors, student groups such as athletic teams, METP and the Day One Leadership Community will volunteer at the run. The event will feature Bully, the Chick-fil-A cow, Jimmy John’s, popcorn and face-painting.
Stratton-Gadke said the Fun Run would not be possible without all the support from the university and the community.
“We’re just so appreciative to everybody who’s involved in making this be such a fun event but also one that has really significant impact,” Stratton-Gadke said.