Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

March 14, 2013

Woman turns assignment into ongoing fundraising event

Nicole Dominique
Effingham Daily News

NEOGA — Imagine raising more than $20,000 over five years for a deserving nonprofit organization.

Dawn Schabbing didn't when she organized the first Can You Walk for Kids Walk-a-thon in 2009 for Shriners Hospitals for Children in St. Louis.

What started as an assignment for her master's degree at Eastern Illinois University has since turned into an event that has raised $23,808 for Shriners Hospitals and inspired between 70 and 92 walkers to participate each year.

"It was not intended to be an ongoing event. I only thought it would be a one-time thing to complete my course requirements," Schabbing said. "But when my goal of $500 was far surpassed, I decided to keep it going."

It wasn't a hard decision, as her daughter Megan, then 12, had been receiving care at the hospital since she was an infant. Megan was born with tibial hemimelia, a "longitudinal deficiency of the tibia in which there is either a complete or partial absence of the tibia," according to the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists.

Shriners also run in the family.

"My father was a Shriner, but he died before I truly realized what wearing the red fez really meant to him," Schabbing said. "It wasn't until she (Megan) was born with a rare condition ... that my husband and I became aware of what Shriners stood for and how they helped kids. The Shriners came to us wanting to help when they learned about our baby's birth defects."

  Megan, now 18, has had 10 surgeries on her legs over the past 17 years. Dawn saw the walk-a-thon as not just an opportunity to donate to the Shriners, but to bring awareness about their work and their causes.

Schabbing named the event Can You Walk for Kids because at the time, Megan couldn't walk. She had been in surgery just before the assignment.

"She hadn't recovered enough to walk yet," Schabbing said. "I posed the question ÔCan you walk?' in order to get people thinking about something most of us take for granted, like walking. For most of us, walking is easy. But for many of these kids, at times, it isn't."

So Megan used a wheelchair to participate in 2009. In the following events, she was able to walk or use crutches.

"It was a long recovery period, as many of her surgeries have been," Schabbing said. "This year she will be able to walk, probably better than she ever has, thanks to all the care she's been given at Shriners."

The fifth annual Walk-a-thon is from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday, March 16, at the Cross County Mall in Mattoon. Registration begins at 8 a.m.

Dawn hopes this year's event is bigger and better than ever. The goal is 100 walkers and $6,500.

The first 50 people who register with a $50 or larger donation will receive a T-shirt. T-shirts are $10 for everyone else.

Coffee, juice, doughnuts and fresh fruit are offered to participants thanks to the donations of Shriners, friends of Shriners and local businesses. There will also be door prizes and children's games and activities.

Dawn said participants are not required to walk for the duration of the event, although most do. However, she noted it's very important to the cause participants join in the first lap.

"We do require that everyone present at the start makes one ceremonial lap for all those kids that can't," Schabbing said.

Dawn is thankful that through the years a group of 15 to 20 people have joined in the cause by helping operate the event.

Shriners will be available to talk with those attending the event on Saturday, and Schabbing hopes participants will take advantage of this opportunity to learn about the group and what they do for the community.

But there will be changes after this year.

"This being the fifth fundraiser, we have decided it will be our (the Schabbings') final one," Schabbing said. "We are hopeful that this one will be the largest in attendance and the largest fundraiser yet. To us, it is a good time to encourage another local family to take over this event after this spring."

Since Megan is 18, the family will not be able to use the hospitals' services after June. She isn't expected to need more orthopedic medical care, either.

Dawn is hoping because there are several local families who use Shriners hospitals for their children's medical conditions, maybe one or more will pick up the torch.

"You never know when a child ... or a grandchild of yours will need this specialized orthopedic care," Schabbing said as to why people should attend. "The doctors at Shriners not only treat congenital conditions but also injuries that happen to children caused from lawn mowers, car accidents, farm accidents, fires and other unfortunate events... The staff there is ready for whatever comes their way."

Shriners hospitals relies on donations year-round. While the organization doesn't ask families to pay, it has started accepting insurance when a patient is covered, Dawn said.

"The care they've given goes beyond surgeries and hospital stays," she said. "Many of the same doctors, nurses and other staff have been with us the entire 17 years."

Nicole Dominique can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, or at nicole.dominique@effinghamdailynews.com.