The Mission Voice and Quaker Wealth Management 2023 5K race/walk will be held on Saturday, April 29, at Strawbridge Lake to raise funds for special needs programs in South Jersey and in Moorestown.
“The thing that I love is just seeing so many families with children with special needs and families with neurotypical children, and just the community spirit and camaraderie of being together and kicking it off,” said Lisa O’Donnell, co-founder of Mission Voice and race director.
According to moorestown.nj.us, Mission Voice is a nonprofit intended to help individuals with special needs find their voice and place in the community. The organization was founded by the O’Donnell family of Moorestown, whose son Daniel was born with Down syndrome.
Mission Voice provides specialized programs and funding for technology costs to help children who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices.
“The real excitement for us with augmentative and alternative communication is to see children be able to unlock what they want to say,” O’Donnell explained. “When we know that a child is suddenly able to say what they want to say, not say things that people think they should want to say, it’s magic.”
Up until 2018, the Sean Fischel Connect Foundation (SFC), founded by Brian and Kimberly Fischel, held an annual 5K/one-mile walk in honor of Sean, who lost his struggle against HLH (Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis). The event helped raise funds for the township rec department’s special needs summer camp.
When the Fischels moved away, the O’Donnells stepped in and hosted the first Mission Voice 5K/one-mile race in 2019. For O’Donnell, one of Moorestown’s bright spots is the number of strong community programs and places in town, like the rec center and Strawbridge Lake.
“Seeing the community come together to fund programs, and hopefully even more programs for people who have sometimes fewer opportunities to really be social and particularly as they age, in a safe way, is what makes Moorestown a really lovely community to be a part of and to live in,” O’Donnell noted.
She looks forward every year to seeing returning runners and new runners, specifically teachers and students from the school district.
“The other thing that’s nice is, it’s using this beautiful – I can’t stress enough – resource that we have in Moorestown (Strawbridge Lake),” O’Donnell said, “and people are doing something that’s good for their health, too, just being outside walking and running.”
From her perspective, the race is a reminder of the neurodiversity among Moorestown’s children and families.
“Sometimes families that have people with special needs can feel a little bit invisible, and this is a really high-performing community where there are so many exciting achievements and accomplishments of adults and children,” O’Donnell pointed out.
“When you have an event like this that celebrates everybody and you see families come together, it’s a good reminder that no one’s left behind, and that there is a great community here.”
For more information on the Mission Voice 5K race/walk, visit https://runsignup.com/Race/NJ/Moorestown/MissionVoice5k.