‘Action for Distraction’ 5K nets record amount for hospital games for kids
MORRISTOWN — The inspirational story of Long Valley teen Zach Rice has continued this spring, with his fifth annual fundraiser to benefit Atlantic Health System Goryeb Children's Hospital.
The annual fundraisers have brought the total amount of money donated to the facility into the six-figure stratosphere.
Action for Distraction is a 5K race, the most recent edition of which was run May 6 and raised just under $30,000, contributing to a $105,000 sum since the inaugural event in 2013.
"We had a huge growth in participants from the first year, and it's just grown into this huge event," Rice, 14, said. "The community comes out and supports it."
Rice came up with the idea at just 10 years old, after he'd been hospitalized several times. Being able to play video games in the hospital helped him cope, and purchasing gaming systems for the children's hospital has been a central focus of his yearly endeavor since then.
The Foundation for Morristown Medical Center's Kids4Kids Committee has helped the gaming equipment at Goryeb remain state-of-the-art by contributing new, flatscreen TVs. But the money raised by Rice has been put to other uses as well, particularly art and pet therapy for inpatients.
"All things to help children while they're in the hospital, to normalize their experience so they can distract themselves from being in the hospital," the foundation's Gerri Kling said.
For Zach Rice's mom Shannon, the biggest change in the Action for Distraction operation (aside from Zach's actual growth as a person) has been Zach's level of direct involvement in the planning stages.
"The first year, he said he wanted to raise money to buy gaming systems for kids in the hospital, and at 10 years old — just barely 10 years old — he didn't even really know how to make the phone call," she said.
Now, he makes pitches to sponsors and businesses himself, and maybe even more tellingly, has gotten kids from his school involved. Some of them agreed to show up as early as 5:30 a.m. on race day.
A new wrinkle added to the fundraiser this year was the "Face of the Race," a chance to highlight a child currently undergoing treatment at Goryeb. The 2017 honoree is nine-year-old Myley Dowson, from Long Valley just like Zach. She's been getting help for epilepsy and seizures.
"To see another child benefit from it, from just being able to find a way to raise money for other kids in the hospital, has been phenomenal," Shannon Rice said.
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