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Paving a Path for Child Development

October 2005
Paving a Path for Child Development

Vibha run/walk

For the seventh year in a row, the Indian community in Atlanta proved that they truly believe in paving a path for the betterment of future generations. Walkers and runners turned out in strength for the annual 5K Pave a Path run/walk by Vibha, a New Jersey-based organization that has been working for child development in U.S. and India through action centers in 16 cities and by supporting projects in both countries. So far, events organized by the organizations 400 volunteers have raised money for more than 125 projects in India and 10 in the U.S. in three main areas of focus: education, health care and vocational training.

On September 24, more than a 100 dedicated volunteers came out to help create another spectacular venue for the community to come together, celebrate and help raise money for the underprivileged. Although final numbers aren't in, Vijay Vemulapalli, coordinator for the Atlanta chapter of Vibha, said he estimates the event raised about $35,000 through sponsorships, personal pledges and participant registration.

On the day of the event, the spirit of the morning was evident in the words of one of Vibha's own, Vinay Uchchil. "To be privileged is not a gift but a responsibility?a responsibility to give back to the children of our society," he said, explaining why he volunteered for the organization.

Along with Uchchil and the other volunteers 500 community members took their responsibility to heart and participated in the morning's walk/run.

When the first of the runners and walkers arrived around 7 a.m., Vibha volunteers, students from Georgia Tech and young professionals from across Atlanta, were there, some having got there as early as 5 a.m. To warm the crowd up?literally and figuratively?Kristin Menapace of Muscle Activation Therapy and Fitness led everyone through an aerobic workout routine.

Warm-up over, the runners were the first to be flagged off by Laxmi Parameswar, executive director of North Fulton Child Development Association, one of the local partners for the walk. The walkers weren't far behind with Ruth Woodling of the Make a Wish Foundation of Georgia and Alabama seeing the first of them off the starting block.

The route over the bridge on 17 th Street and across Interstate 85 with a view of the downtown Atlanta skyline was obviously not too great a challenge for Tim Koehier, who claimed the ribbon with a mere 18:11 minutes later to loud cheers from the crowd. He was closely followed by Jon Comeau at 18:29. Not about to let the men outshine them, the first of the women participants Tashawn L Howell who crossed the finish line at 21:20 minutes. Stephanie Gillis came in second with 21:58 minutes.

Neeraj Basanda won the men's 5K walk with 38:20 followed by Shiv Ududtha at 38:53. Madhuri Vemulapalli (39:35) regained the trophy for the 5K Walk for Women while Akua Asa?Awuka (40:17) took second place.

By the time the last of the stragglers sauntered to the finish the celebrations had already begun. The hard work over, everyone relaxed with family and friends. But before the prizes could be given away, it was the children's turn to claim their spot in the limelight. About 40-50 children, including toddlers as young as two, lined up for the 50 m dash, much to the delight of proud parents and on-lookers alike.

There were more than a few children trying to make a difference. Trent Council, 8, raised and donated $200 to Vibha before the event and Rishi Mocherla, 7, sold milkshakes on the morning of the walk/run and raised another $140 for the organization.

The award ceremony gave Anurag Goel, one of the event coordinators, opportunity to remind everyone of why they were really there?for the children.

"Through the resources raised at the Vibha 5K in Atlanta, we hope to support three projects for an entire year," Goel said. "That means several hundred children being given hope for the future."

Praise and encouragement for Vibha's work came from the day's guest of honor, Ayesha Khanna, chief operating officer for United Way of Atlanta. She congratulated all the volunteers and the participants and also did the honors for the award ceremony. She narrated personal experiences of watching Vibha projects at work and encouraged everyone to support such a worthy cause.

The final?and perhaps greatest?honor for the morning went to Ashwini Sinha who was recognized with an Outstanding Volunteer award for his commitment to the cause and his untiring efforts for the last three years to make the fund raisers successful.

Next year's walk/run may even hold some new suprises, Vemulapalli said.

"We thought five kilometers may be too long for younger participants but we saw a lot of teenagers and even kids younger than 10 at the event," he said. "So next year we hope to include special categories for those age groups. An under-10 and a 10-15 category."

All results and photos from the event are at http://atlanta.vibha.org/vibhawalk.

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