Annual Walk-a-Thon for People First this Saturday

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Ashley Hood of Hampton said events like People First of Henry County’s upcoming Walk-a-Thon have helped residents with special needs, including herself, to live a fuller life.

Participants at the 2015 People First of Henry County Walk-a-Thon warm up before the walk begins. Special photo

“If it weren’t for People First, they wouldn’t be able to get out and do anything,” said the 30-year-old Hood, who is preparing to participate in her third Walk-a-Thon Saturday. “I love to be able to help with something like that.”

The 1.2.-mile Walk-a-Thon will be at the administrative offices of the Henry County Board of Education, 33 N. Zack Hinton Parkway. Registration will begin at 7:30 a.m., and the walk will follow at 8 a.m. All proceeds from the walk will go toward People First of Henry County, a non-profit organization which provides free socials and other events for the special-needs community. Registration is free, and donations will be accepted.

Hood was born with a severe case of spina bifida, and has been wheelchair-bound all her life. Nevertheless, she said that doesn’t keep her from participating in the Walk-a-Thon each year.

“It stops me from a few things, but I try not to think about it too much, and think instead of what I can do,” said Hood.

She added that one of the reasons she continues to take part in the Walk-a-Thon is to express her gratitude for the leadership at People First -- including one of its directors, Connie Dodgen.

“I know what a great organization that People First is, and the great things Connie is doing,” said Hood. “She does great for many, I wanted to do whatever I could to help her keep it going.”

Hood’s mother, Denise, said the Walk-a-Thon helps People First to fund a number of events throughout the year.

“They are able to provide so many social events for these kids and adults that, normally, they would not be able to participate,” said Denise Hood. “Not only do they provide social events through the year, but at Christmas time, there are several group homes they’re able to provide Christmas for.”

Denise Hood called Dodgen the “heart and soul” of People First.

“She has a heart of gold, and she does bring awareness to the special-needs community,” said Hood.

People First has served more than 1,000 different families over the past 14 years, said Dodgen, who is one of three directors at People First, along with with Joan Angelini, Kristy Dobbs. Dodgen said roughly 75 people participated in last year’s Walk-a-Thon, bringing in $16,000 for the group’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

“Every year, we go up,” she said. “We don’t try to do 20 fundraisers a year. We try to concentrate on one big fundraiser, and it’s pretty much our budget for the year.”

Dodgen said support for People First’s mission and events has grown in recent years, and that the organization has a “good reputation” locally. She emphasized that funds from the walk will be used solely to benefit the special-needs community.

“We’re doing what a nonprofit’s supposed to do,” she explained. “I feel like we’re honest, and people trust us with their money.”

Participants in the walk will start at the Board of Education, walk down Zack Hinton Parkway, around the Square and back down Keys Ferry Street. Dodgen added that the Atlanta Dream mascot, Star, will be on hand for the occasion, along with the kings and queens from this year’s H.O.P.E. Park Special Pageant.

“You can turn in money for donations if you’re not able to walk,” she said. “You can still collect and turn in the money, and we’ll walk for you.”

Donations for the walk can also be mailed to P.O. Box 806, Lovejoy, GA 30250. All donations are tax deductible.

For more information on the Walk-a-Thon, call 770-957-6060.