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Runners, volunteers help build hope in Haiti

Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013 1:06 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, May 13, 2013 6:30 a.m. CDT

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GENEVA - For Colleen and Chris Ottens, concern for the plight of the people of Haiti is something never far from their mind.

"We just have a real soft spot in our hearts for Haiti," said Colleen Ottens. "We've not been on a trip down there, but we feel like we need to help Haiti."

Saturday, the Ottens, of South Elgin, were among dozens of volunteers from the Tri-Cities and surrounding communities to assist organizers of the Hope for Haitians 5K Walk/Run for Education.

Starting at the Gunnar Anderson Forest Preserve, behind the Kane County Government Complex, in Geneva, the event, now in its second year, raises money to fund operations at schools operated by Rockford-based Hope For Haitians in seven villages in the poverty-plagued Caribbean nation.

Locally, the organization partners with several area churches, including the local Roman Catholic parishes of St. John Neumann and St. Patrick in St. Charles, St. Catherine Drexel in Sugar Grove and St. Thomas More in Elgin.

This year, the event drew about 275 runners and walkers willing to tackle approximately 3.1 mile course in and around Geneva Saturday morning, said Theresa Kegley, development director for Hope for Haitians.

Last year, the event drew about the same number of participants, and raised about $25,000.

Kegley said organizers believed they were on pace to equal that total.

She said the event is one of two large fundraisers run annually by Hope for Haitians. The 5K event was launched last year to tap into what Kegley said was "a huge base and a wonderful amount of energy" surrounding her organization's cause in churches in and around the Tri-Cities.

"Our other event is an annual gala, which is targeted at a certain type of person," Kegley said. "This is something that anyone can do, a much more family-friendly kind of event."

About 40 local volunteers were enlisted to help with the event, culled largely from Hope for Haitians committees at local churches.

The Ottens, for instance, volunteered through the Hope for Haitians committee at St. Thomas More.

Last year, they said they ran in the event, but opted for a different participation method this year.

They said they believed helping Haitians is especially important now, as support for the nation, tied to the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 Haitians and disrupted the lives of more than 3 million, has faded through the ensuing years.

"It's hugely important," Chris said.

"We're here to work for God and help the Haitians," Colleen said.

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