by Paula M. Riley
The 24th Annual Run for the Hill of It will take place at Forbidden Drive at 8:30 a.m. this Saturday, July 30. Once again, runners from around the region will line up along the wooden path near Northwestern Avenue and Forbidden Drive.
Novice runners will stand beside athletes who have never missed this race. People of all ages and from all walks of life will be wearing a racing bib, participating in the one mile fun walk, volunteering on the sidelines or cheering for the racers.
Everyone will be helping the children, who need it most.
Montgomery Child Advocacy Project (MCAP) has been the organizer and beneficiary of the popular race since 2009, when race founders and organizers McNally’s Tavern and Friends of Erik awarded the event to them.
MCAP assists children throughout Montgomery County by providing advocacy and free legal representation to young victims of abuse and neglect. Volunteer lawyers dedicate time and resources to represent these children and be their voice during the sometimes grueling and overwhelming court proceedings.
Since its inception in 2005, MCAP has represented 2,284 children in 1,422 cases.
“Our amazing lawyers spend an average of 14 – 18 hours on each case, and many give much, much more than that,” said Mary Pugh, Esq., MCAP administrative director.
Pugh estimates that in 2010 MCAP attorneys donated over $500,000 of legal services.
These attorneys advocate for children who have been victims of physical or sexual abuse and gross neglect as well as children who find themselves in a wide variety of circumstances.
Pugh told the story of a 13-year-old boy whose parents are deceased. Since their death, the child was in the care of his 28-year-old brother.
When the boy needed surgery to address a life-threatening heart condition, the operation was cancelled because he had no legal guardian – his brother had never been appointed legal guardian.
A hospital social worker and doctor immediately contacted MCAP, and the MCAP advocate worked with the brother to get him appointed legal guardian.
The boy received the necessary surgery, and now the elder brother can always care for his younger brother.
Most of MCAP cases are not as simple. The majority of these involve sexual and physical abuse, parents not providing adequate food or medical care to their children and siblings abusing siblings.
In all cases, the children need someone to advocate for them.
One of MCAP’s clients is an 11-year-old boy who was not well fed by his mother. When he stole $2 from her to buy something to eat, she whipped the boy with her belt using so much force that he was bleeding through his shirt.
A school counselor contacted police who then reach out to MCAP. The MCAP advocate worked with the child and discovered he had a father in York, Pa., but, because no custody arrang- ment was ever worked out at the divorce, there was limited contact.
The boy is now in the care of his father, and both are participating in counseling. The mother is being charged with child endangerment and assault.
“So often what we do is connect a child to a support system,” said Pugh. “In this case, it was the child’s father.”
Calling these pro bono attorneys “advocates” seems the best description. They offer children a voice and represent the child’s interest at all times by keeping the child out of at-risk environments and connecting them to appropriate social service and counseling agencies.
With an annual increase in the number of children abused and neglected, MCAP’s workload grows steadily. Started by former assistant district attorneys, MCAP is a 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization that depends on over 150 attorneys from a variety of backgrounds.
“Our advocates are focused on the children,” Pugh explained. “We are not prosecution or defense. Our only allegiance is to the child who has been hurt.”
When the walkers and runners come to Northwestern Avenue and Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park on Saturday, they will be greeted by hundreds of eager volunteers.
“What is amazing is the number of runners and volunteers who have once been victims,” said Pugh. “They come to show their support for these kids. You never know what the person running next to you or handing you a water bottle went through as a child.”
The MCAP Run for the Hill of It is a USATF sanctioned and certified five-mile, tree-lined course in Fairmount Park beside the Wissahickon Creek. The one-mile walk will provide a scenic view of the beautiful landscape at Fairmount Park.
Prizes will be awarded to the best overall male, female and masters best racers as well as the top three winners in all other age groups. Precision electronic timing services will be provided by Lin-Mark Computerized Sports.
On Friday, July 29, runners can pick up race packets at Bruno’s Restaurant at the corner of Germantown Ave. and Northwestern Ave. in Lafayette Hill across from Chestnut Hill College from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Runners can register online at www.runforthehillofit.org on Friday evening or on race day. Volunteers are still needed on race day to help with parking, distribute race packets and hand out water and snacks.