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Walk to celebrate and benefit those with special needs; A first for Easter Seals

By Staff | May 29, 2008

Tonight the Gulf Coast region of Florida’s Easter Seals will host the first-ever “Walk With Me Celebration” to benefit all of the special needs population living in Southwest Florida.

Beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Centennial Park in downtown Fort Myers, the event will include more than 164 scheduled participants who will walk one mile to raise funds for the Easter Seals. Of course, organizers are hoping that the number of participants far exceeds how many are expected.

“The walk celebrates successes of people with disabilities and special needs in our community,” said Joni Johnson, the director of development for Easter Seals Community Rehab. “We are hoping that we will have more than that.”

Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, will host the event. He will also introduce each of the Easter Seal’s ambassadors, including Elias, Destiny, Jacqueline and Jenna — all are involved in local Easter Seals programs.

A number of local businesses are contributing donations for the walk. Riverside Bank, for instance, has donated grills to use for the event, while Publix and Wal-Mart have donated food. Costco, CVS and Culligan have donated water for everyone involved with the walk.

There will also be musical entertainment from a local DJ.

“Everyone has been so generous and so warm it amazes us. We are so thrilled,” said Johnson.

Area businesses have committed a certain amount of money for each walker and, according to Johnson, almost all of the funds being raised will stay in the community.

“Ninety-three cents out of every dollar stays in the community,” she said.

Currently, there are Easter Seals facilities in Fort Myers and Cape Coral that provide services to ensure that all people with disabilities or special needs and their families have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play in their community.

“Our facilities provide occupational, physical, speech and massage therapy for all special needs and disabled people,” said Johnson.

The organization works locally with IMPACT for Developmental Education and the Peace by Piece Learning Center to provide therapy for adults and children. Much of the Easter Seal’s population is autistic, but it also works with a variety of other special needs population.

“Ninety percent of our clients have autism, but some have Down syndrome, and one of our ambassadors is a senior at Mariner High and has spinal cord injury,” said Johnson.

Johnson said there is still time to register for the walk and raise money for the local special needs population. Anyone interested can come to the walk after 4 p.m. or go online at: www.walkwithme.org to register.