March 19, 2019  

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Community Shows up for The Children’s Center Classic “I CAN!” Run

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“This is one of our favorite days of the year,” said Sarah Case-Price, director of The Children’s Center for Communication and Development at The University of Southern Mississippi. “Every year we are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community, and this year is no exception.”

Case was referring to The Children’s Center Classic “I CAN!” Run, which raised more than $25,000 for The Center, all of which goes directly to bringing brighter futures to children with disabilities and their families, and training future clinicians in Southern Mississippi.

Taking a look around at the large turnout for the event, it’s easy to see the heartwarming community support for the center’s ongoing efforts. Smiling faces abound, on the part of staff and volunteers as well as race patrons and sponsors.

“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year. The effects of this race will be seen far beyond the finish line today,” said Case-Price. “Every person who is involved in making this day a success plays an important role in allowing The Children’s Center to continue providing innovative, cost-free services to children with disabilities in Southern Mississippi. To say that we are fortunate to call so many businesses, individuals, and families our partners is truly an understatement.”

Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker, USM’s football team, and the Hattiesburg Fire Department came out to show their support for The Center on this special day.

But it’s the children who steal the show. A quick glance provides a reminder of exactly why so many are compelled to take part in this event. The day began with a fun run around the coliseum, complete with a line of Southern Miss football players doling out high-fives at the finish line.

Watching the littlest racers, many of whom were not mobile when they began with the center, running, walking, or riding towards the finish, was the perfect inspiration for those waiting to begin their own 10K or 5K race.

“This race is such a wonderful reminder of how our little ones push past their challenges every single day,” said Case-Price. “As infants and toddlers, they’ve already had to face challenges that most of us, as adults, have never had to face – things we take for granted, like walking, communicating, playing, getting dressed, or feeding ourselves. The theme of this year’s race was ‘I CAN,’ and our kiddos prove that the CAN every day!”

Take Layla, for instance. When Layla was born, at 36.5 weeks, she was a mystery to the doctors. Even upon receiving an official diagnosis, doctors still didn’t seem to know what to make of Layla. Jacobsen Syndrome is rare, and according to Layla’s mom, Amanda Lee, all her doctor could offer were documents printed from the internet and an uncertainty as to whether she would ever walk to talk.

“I cried and I ached that day,” said Lee. “But the very next morning, I woke up and knew I had to do everything I could to give her the best life.” And for the Lee family, that meant following a friend’s recommendation and reaching out to The Children’s Center.

“(The Children’s Center’s staff) has made a life-changing difference for my girl. She’s walking and talking and has an imagination far beyond her years… The one thing I’ve learned in the last five years is that Layla CAN. She can do everything her friends can do. It may take her a little longer, or she may require a little help, but Layla can.”

But to say that Layla is walking and talking is an understatement. Layla sprinted across that finish line, and was greeted by a gaggle of fans, old and new. Because to Layla, no one is a stranger. Lee calls The Children’s Center a hidden gem right here in Hattiesburg. And judging from the number of smiles and high-fives witnessed on race day, it seems safe to say that she is in good company.

The success of this year’s race is sure to have a lasting impact on The Children’s Center and the Pine Belt community as a whole, and it was made possible by the generous support of sponsors, donors, fundraisers, volunteers, racers and a whole lot of “cheerleaders.”

For more information about The Children’s Center for Communication and Development, call 601.266.5222 or visit: