Day center walking its way to zoo visit

By Chrysta Carroll -

ELIZABETHTOWN — The North Carolina Zoo, one of the largest in the U.S., is a must-see for children and adults alike, and a trip to the site is a staple for schools and daycare centers around the state. Monarch’s Bladen Opportunities Unlimited, a day program in Elizabethtown for adults with disabilities, is hoping to make a first-ever field trip to the wildlife park, and, on Monday, they held another first — a Walk-a-Thon — in order to raise money for the trip.

“I’m truly proud of all of them,” said Paul McCombs, a Bladen Opportunities employee in charge of health and wellness for the site. “I didn’t know we’d have such a good turnout.”

The center teamed up with their sister site, Columbus Industries, and, between individuals served, family of individuals served, and employees, around 60 people turned out for the event, the planning for which has been in the works for quite some time.

“We’ve been practicing and working hard to get ready for (the Walk-a-Thon),” said McCombs.

Since practicing to walk may at first seem counterintuitive, McCombs explained it this way: “We had to get each one motivated. Once they were motivated, they had an incentive to reach their goal.”

Angela Heavenridge, who also works at the center, added, “This was kind of like Special Olympics for them, and they needed to build up to it. When we started practicing, they may have been able to do only one lap. Now, some of them are walking multiple laps. Of course, we have a broad spectrum of abilities.”

Bladen Opportunities worker Ruth Watson said, “We had one lady that’s never been all the way around the track.

“She usually goes to that trash can right there,” she said, pointing to a receptacle about 30 yards away, “and then turns around and comes back, but today, she did a full lap.”

Each individual was encouraged to do what they could, and McCombs reported that some people walked partial laps while one individual walked a whopping 20 laps, or 4 miles, for the cause. Supporters cheered him on and applauded as he finished his last lap.

While the total amount of money raised has not yet been released, staff reported that, through a generous donor, walkers were sponsored at $10 per person per lap, up to $1,000, all of which would be used for a trip to the zoo in June.

“They’re so excited about the trip,” McCombs said. “We didn’t have any behavior problems (on the way here), because they know if they (complete the Walk-a-Thon), they’ll get to go to the zoo, and they’re excited about that.”

“It’s am ambitious trip,” said Program Manager Damon Heath. “We’re definitely breaking the mold, but it gives them something to celebrate and look forward to.”

Individuals interested in contributing to the center’s zoo trip can contact Heath at 910-247-6344.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

By Chrysta Carroll

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