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Smiles abundant as 20 kids receive adaptive bicycles

Local pastor runs charity 5K between church services

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“Newark, Delaware, is a very happy place today.”

That’s the conclusion Deb Buenaga came to as she watched 20 local kids with disabilities receive adaptive bicycles at the conclusion of a charity 5K run/walk Sunday morning.

The joy was apparent not just on the faces of the kids – who wasted no time getting on their new bikes and riding around the parking lot of The Deer Park Tavern – but also on the faces of the dozens of sponsors and hundreds of race participants who made the massive giveaway possible.

“It’s made me cry,” Buenaga said. “It’s awesome. It’s incredible to see the parents and kids having fun. It’s a parking lot full of smiles.”

Buenaga and her husband are no stranger to giving away bikes. They started the charity Preston’s March for Energy seven years ago after seeing the difference an adaptive bike made for her son Preston, who has mitochondrial disease. Over the years, the organization has provided a total of 380 bikes to kids in dozens of states.

The 20 bikes given out on Sunday, though, was the most the charity has ever handed out at once. Each bike costs up to $2,500 and is customized to fit the needs of each child.

The event was a collaboration between Preston’s March for Energy, Fusion Racing and Placers, a staffing agency located on Casho Mill Road.

Chris Burkhard, the president of Placers, said his company first got involved with Preston’s March for Energy last year, when together they gave away 13 bikes. This year, the company set a goal of topping that.

“My dad taught me the best way to use marketing dollars is to be in the community and do good things,” Burkhard said.

Placers recruited other companies and individuals to each sponsor a bike. Burkhard said he plans to make the event a yearly tradition and encouraged any companies that want to get involved to email him at chris@myplacers.com.

Though most of the donors were local corporations, one of the bikes was sponsored by Eileen Bradley, a former Placers employee who flew in from Minnesota to be part of the festivities Sunday.

“I loved it. I can’t wait to come back next year,” she said.

For the recipients, the bikes mean mobility and a way to have fun with their peers.

Bart Ellis, whose 8-year-old daughter, Lily, has spinal muscular atrophy, said the adaptive bike will allow her to join in when the rest of the family goes on bike rides and other recreational activities.

“When we go to the beach, she doesn’t have to just sit in the sand. We can ride the boardwalk,” Ellis said. “It’s meeting a need that we wouldn’t be able to do ourselves.”

More than 850 people participated in the 5K, which started on Orchard Road and snaked through Devon and other neighborhoods before ending with an after-party at the Deer Park.

One of those participants was The Rev. Dr. Howell C. Sasser, Jr., who managed to squeeze in running the 5K between preaching the 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services at St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church.

An avid runner, Sasser took over as pastor of the South College Avenue church just a month ago and devised the plan as a way to bring some publicity to the church while also helping a worthy charity.

Wearing a custom-designed running shirt that included a white clerical collar, Sasser completed the 5K in just under 25 minutes. As he ran, a group of his congregants gathered on Orchard Road to cheer him on.

“It’s not a hard distance,” said Sasser, who is used to running half marathons. “It’s just the logistics of getting there, getting cleaned up and getting back to work.”

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