Jake O’Donnell and his aunt hosted the first Mission Voice race at Moorestown Friends School in April of 2019 to help raise funds for the township recreation department’s special needs programs.
Jake’s mother, Lisa, couldn’t have been prouder of her family after Moorestown agreed to permit a second 5K race/one mile walk at Strawbridge Lake in April of 2020. But that event was canceled last year due to COVID, so this year, Lisa and her family reintroduced the race at the beginning of the school year to give everyone an opportunity to support an organization that helps children with special needs, specifically communication issues.
On Sept. 18, Mission Voice partnered with the recreation department to host yet another run and walk and help dedicate a new playground and children’s pond.
For O’Donnell, seeing the community come together made the day memorable.
“For me, personally, it was a moving day being outdoors in a beautiful setting and being in the heart of community, safely because we were outside, and it was just so joyous,” she said. “The more we talk and the more we connect, we find more and more people who are unlocking their child’s abilities to really connect and participate by using technology, and that takes a lot of training.”
Mission Voice is a nonprofit that helps children with special needs, specifically with communication issues. Founded by the O’Donnell family, the organization provides specialized programs and funding for technology costs to help children who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices.
Lisa’s son Daniel was born in 2004 with Down syndrome, and from a very young age, he has used AAC devices to help with articulated speech in certain circumstances and in school. Daniel does not have a hard time communicating or understanding but has apraxia of speech, which, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, is a motor– speech disorder that makes it hard to speak.
“We’re super grateful that Daniel was born into an era of technology, because it’s really helped him to be continually included in school and in his community and be able to be less frustrated and really understand the power of communication and the power of having a voice,” said O’Donnell.
The O’Donnell family became aware about three years ago that the recreation department’s summer camp, something Daniel has participated in since he was 5, was facing a significant funding gap. So, Brian and Kimberly Fischel launched The Sean Fischel Connect Foundation (SFC) in 2013 and held an annual 5K run/one mile walk in honor of their son, an event that was a funding source for the camp. When the Fischel family was transferred out of the country, the O’Donnells stepped in to continue funding for the program, something that has been a staple for families in Moorestown. Now that the second Mission Voice 5K run is over, O’Donnell looks forward to the future of the organization and its continued growth.
“I am hoping that Mission Voice’s next quest, in addition to continuing working with rec departments, will be to help make some more inroads to helping with maybe putting some communication boards up in different playgrounds.”