Participating in a 5K run can mean more than getting a workout or engaging in a community activity—it can change lives.
On Saturday, Oct. 5, Oklahoma Christian University students will have the opportunity to participate in and volunteer for the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma’s (DSACO) annual festival and 5K. Oklahoma Christian professor and current DSACO President Bobby Kern has played a major role in organizing and promoting the event.
“To volunteer with a non-profit like the Down Syndrome Association is right in line with our mission as a university,” Kern said. “There’s something about your own spiritual development that blooms when you’re serving other people.”
As the organization’s largest fundraising and awareness event of the year, Kern encourages students to be a part of a day much bigger than themselves.
“We had over 6,000 participants last year, and we are expecting that number to increase for the entire festival,” Kern said, “We’ve had about 700 runners in the past couple of years. I would not be surprised if we had between 700 to 1,000 runners for the 5K. It’s going to be a pretty big deal.”
Kern’s son, Josiah, has Down Syndrome, and DSACO was there from the beginning, loving and supporting the Kern family.
“We found out about Josiah’s diagnosis in utero and the association reached out to us,” Kern said. “We had a parent come to our house and talk to us and let us know everything was going to be okay.”
According to Kern, he has built long-lasting relationships with the people in the organization. As the current president of DSACO, he said he hopes to continue this special bond with parents from the area.
“I did not process very well when we found out about Josiah,” Kern said. “People from that association, especially the dads group, rallied around me and lifted me up and continue to do that all these years later. Now I’m on the other end of that. I get to speak to the dads. It’s a circle of life, just continually giving and paying it forward.”
While students can attend the festival, Kern said he would love for students to volunteer outside of the event as the association has many opportunities for involvement every week.
“Our kitchen is our biggest volunteer opportunity every night where volunteers are paired with one of our teens or young adults and they learn a recipe. It’s all microwave-based cooking. And that’s stuff you can do throughout the year. You don’t have to wait for the festival.”
Through facilitating volunteer opportunities, Oklahoma Christian staff members Celeste Dvorak and Gary Piercey have worked to encourage Honors students to get involved with DSACO.
“We are doing carnival games now so it can be more one-on-one with the participants,” Piercey said. “We live in a time-crunched society, so sometimes getting people initially to sign up to do a service project is a little bit difficult, but I’ve never had somebody once they’ve gone regret it.”
So far, over 10 students have signed up to help, but the team anticipates more volunteers in the upcoming weeks.
“There’s pretty big involvement with this organization on campus so we decided to encourage the Honors students,” Dvorak said. “It’s learning the habit to look outside of yourself. Lots of them already have that, so we just wanted to make another opportunity available.”
To those who decide to volunteer, Bobby Kern would like to say thank you.
“When you volunteer and when you show up, you are saying to a group of marginalized people that you matter, and that’s huge,” Kern said. “As a daddy of one of those kids, when this campus shows up for Josiah, it means the world to us. So just thank you.”
Click here to sign up for the 5K or to volunteer.