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WESTTOWN — The Bournelyf Special Camp in West Chester has been providing a fun, rich environment for youth with special needs since 1980.
But in order to keep providing for the campers and to keep tuitions a reasonable cost for them, the camp holds an annual Hand-to-Hand 5K run and two-mile walk.
“Right now, camp costs the families half as much as the actual cost to have their camper here,” said Carly Hamond, coordinator of Hand-to-Hand. “The goal is, no matter what we change at camp or what changes around the community, that we keep that formula. This is what the race does for us.”
This year’s sixth annual event will take place Aug. 6 at West Chester Rustin High School at 7 p.m. Registration opens at 6 p.m.
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Before the race came into existence, Bournelyf used to hold an auction.
It did a good job of bringing in money for the camp, but didn’t hold the type of ambiance that the camp did.
“For my high school senior project, we did the auction,” Hamond said. “We held onto that one more year. Both times, I just remember people were there, but it didn’t feel like camp. There were no high-fives or cheers or conversations.”
Hamond, who was a runner all through her high school and college years, is the mastermind behind the 5K’s start.
“I don’t know why it didn’t come to me sooner,” she said. “I had already met the West Chester community of runners. I know the people that like to meet every morning and run. I knew I had to utilize it.”
Hamond was able to reach out to the community and received positive feedback from places such as the Chester County Running Store and the West Chester Area School District, who is providing the location at a discount to Bournelyf.
“We have a DJ come out to it and he sets up in the middle of the track and, no matter what event you’re competing in, you have to enter the track and so a lap and that’s your finish line,” Hamond said. “He’s right there when everyone finishes. We have water ice and bagels after the race and people just hang out for a good hour afterward. It dies down very slowly. All of our campers dance, so they keep dancing. It’s very much a family event.”
The 5K portion, which the majority of the community takes part in, is on a cross-country course with most of it being grass terrain and just a little part paved.
The two-mile walk, however, is completely paved. Mostly the campers and their families take part in that portion.
The event has been very successful the latter half of its existence, bringing in 250 people and over $10,000 per year.
It’s what the camp has needed to help offset costs of running the camp. All the money from registrations and the majority of from sponsors goes directly back to the camp. The other little bit pays the costs of holding the 5K.
“We’re finally hitting close to where we want to be, but we can always dream for more,” Hamond said. “We get a ton of neighbors and just friends of friends that come out. We get dentists and doctors of our campers to come out. We get teachers to come out. It’s pretty amazing to see that network.”
Bournelyf enjoys seeing the campers, their families and the people they know come out, but would love to see more participation from the public as well.
Having a race not only ties the community aspect into the camp, but also fulfills another aspect for the participants.
“On our mission statement, the first thing listed is growing through social and physical interaction — getting better with our social skills and extending our physical fitness,” Hamond said. “That’s exactly what a race would do for us. They practice all summer. Every time they go hiking or for a walk, the counselors keep reminding them they’re training for Hand-to-Hand. Now there’s a purpose behind just going for a random hike on a Tuesday. Now we have something they can aim for.”
It also gives the campers the ability to meet some members of the community they otherwise may never had the chance to.
In addition, it provides a setting that will make even the most experienced racer stop and soak in.
“The final leg of the race is on a track, so we have a stadium atmosphere where we’re cheering on strangers,” Hamond said. “That’s what is so great about these campers. They know how to cheer each other on because I think they see their peers and themselves have maybe a few more challenges than the other person, so they know what cheering someone on can do.
“The finish gives people goosebumps. You just have to stand there and soak it in. It will never get old to see a stadium full of strangers that want to cheer each other on. It doesn’t exists at other races and I’ve been running for 10 years. I’ve never been to something like that.”
For more information about the race, visit www.campbournelyf.org.