'Footsteps' raises funds for cancer kids
Nearly 600 runners and walkers took a few "Footsteps in Faith" to benefit a local nonprofit organization.
Participants gathered Saturday at Irwin Park for the 5K race and 1-mile fun walk to benefit Genre's Kids with Cancer Fund, a North Huntingdon Township-based organization dedicated to supporting families living through childhood cancer.
"Amazing," race director Jodi Fowler said of the event turnout. "That (number) was much higher that we ever expected. We had such a beautiful day with such a wonderful turnout."
The organization uses funding to help newly diagnosed patients in the oncology unit of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC have a way to mentally escape the treatments and other medical procedures.
Genre Baker, for whom the organization is named, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Memorial Day 2009 and spent 14 days in the hospital to receive initial treatments.
Genre's mother Daunette Baker said her son relied on his handheld gaming system to get through the numerous hours of treatment. The system helped her son by allowing him to focus on something other than the procedures or the updates from doctors.
When Genre came home from the hospital, he asked his parents if they could help other children diagnosed with cancer by purchasing each of them a handheld gaming system. Daunette Baker said the family couldn't afford to do that on their own but began fund-raising in January.
The fund currently purchases a gaming system with one game for patients who don't already own a system. For those who do have a system, the fund allows for two new games. Each new system costs about $150. Baker said Best Buy provides a discount for systems used in the program.
"I had to get treatments a lot, and they took hours to do it," Genre said. "I played my (Nintendo) DS a lot to pass the time. When I came home, I asked my mom and dad if we could get games for some of the other kids who didn't have them."
Genre said he is happy that so many people joined in the "Footsteps in Faith" race.
"It was pretty cool to see," he said. "They all came out to support Genre's Kids with Cancer Fund."
More than 100 volunteers helped coordinate walkers and runners, work the concession stand and assist with games and activities in the children's area that sprawled throughout the park following the race.
Members of the Norwin High School cheerleading team spent their Saturday morning helping in whatever way they were needed. Captain Natalie Parry said the team didn't have a personal connection to the Baker family but still wanted to give their time to the organization.
"We're trying to get more involved with the community, to show people that we really care about Norwin," she said.
"We're trying to bring the Norwin spirit out to the community," captain Lindsey Zaken added.
Seven oncology patients and their families joined the festivities as honored guests. Baker said their presence served as an important reminder of the organization's mission.
"They're the reason; each and every one of them is why everyone here does what they do," she said. "Their strength and spirit it's just overwhelming to see them with all they go through. They're still kids."
For more information on Genre's Kids with Cancer Fund, go to the website www.genreskidswithcancerfund.com.