Key Center clients

Pictured left to right/top to bottom: Jason Serageant, Deron Thomas, Matthew Gosse, Michael Phillips, Kenny Hanning, Cindy Notnagle, John Dollard, and Shanna Harrison,

If we have learned anything throughout these past few months, it is the importance of coming together. Although the world has been, at times, shut down during this year, the Key Training Center is still working hard for our people. Our “why” is simple. We choose to care about the people that need us to be their voice and provide ongoing care. As our annual Run for the Money is upon us, we will continue to tell stories of our exceptional people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Stories of dire life beginnings, learning self-sufficient daily living skills, working to make a paycheck, enjoying hobbies, contributing to their community, finding employment, making everlasting friends, and most cases, with the common theme of our of overcoming imaginable obstacles. At the Key, we have over 300 stories that we get to hear and experience daily. Each one is emotional, heartwarming, eye-opening, breathtaking and some of them genuinely heartbreaking. Each story represents a life, a family, and a desire to have a chance at life we may take for granted.

So why the run? It all started in 1976 to raise awareness and funds for adults with I/DD in Citrus County. Forty-four years later, the Run for the Money is still going strong even in 2020, where COVID-19 has created unique challenges for the Key’s annual celebratory events such that much of this year’s activities are virtual or reinvented. In year one, the Run raised $6,000 and since then millions of dollars. These funds go to provide scholarships for forty individuals on the Agency for Persons with Developmental Disabilities’ waiting list that is unfunded. Annual scholarships are a $300,000-plus pledge on the Key’s part but can only be given with the community’s support. Yearly scholarships can range from $6,000 to over $25,000, with 35% of Key clients receiving residential services and the remaining 65% of clients in receipt of Day Program and Transportation services.

This year’s Run for the Money week kicks off July 17, beginning with nearly 150 “Reach for the Stars Ungala” tickets bought by local individuals and businesses. The Key’s well-attended community auction dinner transformed itself this year, offering three pick-up dinner choices throughout the county.

The much sought out live and silent auction will take place virtually online that started July 17 and will continue to July 31, giving everyone here in Citrus County and beyond the opportunity to bid on 85 must-have packages. Some packages are valued at $1,000-plus to $9,000.

In efforts to be on the right side of COVID-19, on July 20, a modified

180-mile run will start. Regular Key core volunteer runners and cyclers will hit the ground to log in the miles typically done from the Florida Capitol steps in Tallahassee. Each weekday, the group will work together to log miles in all ways, including running on a treadmill, hitting the trails, or in their neighborhoods. A small group of Key runners will plan to walk in the final 1-mile leg from the Crystal Springs Publix shopping center to the Key Training Center campus in Lecanto just off State Road 44 on Saturday, July 25, around 10:30 a.m., in a way to keep everyone safe and healthy.

For the first time, the public has joined the Key on the virtual Run for the Money and Beyond that started in late June. There are over 50 registered runners, with nearly 80 donors on top of that, logging in miles and raising funds. The experience of virtual fundraising has been fun, powerful and catching. We are excited to see what our total miles will be this year with the combination of miles from community members, core runners, and core cyclers. The Walk for the Mile in My Shoes will take place Saturday, July 25, virtually, with about 70 registered walkers completing their mile walk at home or in their community.

As COVID-19 has changed our world, what doesn’t change is our “why.” The Key is committed to supporting our exceptional clients and has been doing so for 54 years. Even though it will be different, we take great pride in continuing the tradition of the Run for the Money and honoring the legacy of longtime executive director, Chet Cole, along with the Key’s board member Phil Royal. Both were seasoned athletes who championed the long-distance 180-mile run during the heat of summer to remind the rest of us what difficulties and challenges these special people with I/DD face every day.

So why support the Key’s Run for the Money? Our support, along with our community, allows these unique adults to live, learn, work and engage in their community. However, without funding, scholarships cannot be given offering individuals the chance to grow, thrive, meaningful day activities, and safe home life, all in an environment of kindness, love, dignity and respect. Every donation makes a difference and is only possible because of the steadfast community support in Citrus County and beyond.

Melissa Walker is executive director of the Key Training Center.