Teens set pace to aid others

Setting their own pace

Fund-raiser: Two teen-agers organize a walk to help their teacher and others who suffer from Crohn's disease.

Ellicott City

October 21, 2003|By Fay Lande | Fay Lande,SUN STAFF

Fifty-one white and red banners are flying on Columbia's streets, 14,000 slick, multicolored brochures have been distributed and $35,000 has been pledged for Sunday's Miles for Miracles Pace Setter Walk, to benefit the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.

It is an effort that would make a professional event planner proud. But this walk is the work of two 14-year-old Ellicott City girls: Shayna Meliker and Carrie Gartner.

They started the project about 1 1/2 years ago, after learning that their religious teacher at Beth Shalom Congregation, Chaya Solomon-Hoffman, had Crohn's disease, a chronic disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive or gastrointestinal tract.

"As Carrie's dad, I'm proud and amazed at the same time, if that makes sense," said Randy Gartner, owner of Integrated Marketing Services in Ellicott City. "They were sitting in the synagogue one day, saying, `What can we do?' Shayna said, `How about a walk - is that too crazy?' And Carrie said, `Sure, why not?' "

"We just wanted to do something nice that could help her and other people," Shayna said.

The girls, who have been friends since elementary school, wrote letters, made phone calls, held meetings and recorded minutes. They solicited two open tickets from Southwest Airlines to use as prizes. In-kind and cash donations came from Mark Brodsky of Graphic Impressions in Columbia, the Grebow Family Foundation and about 21 others. The girls held a kick-off event for corporate sponsors Aug. 29 at Donna's Restaurant in Clarksville.

"And they all showed up. That was the thing that I loved. Every one of our corporate sponsors showed up," said Richard Hays, executive director of the Maryland/Southern Delaware Chapter of Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America, who worked with Shayna and Carrie on the project.

The 2.4-mile walk around the Centennial Park lake is scheduled for Sunday. Solomon-Hoffman, an honoree of the event, will be there, as will Carrie's uncle, Melvin Oberfeld, who also has the disease and is an honoree. So will Shayna's and Carrie's families. So will Orioles Hall-of-Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, who is scheduled to be at the event.

The two friends have had help in getting the word out. Comcast is running a 30-second commercial locally in which Carrie and Shayna announce the walk. The County Council has proclaimed Sunday as Miles for Miracles Day. A booth will be set up at The Mall in Columbia on Saturday to register last-minute walkers.

"The girls have a $45,000 goal; it has every potential of making about $75,000," Hays said.

"I never thought it was going to get this big," Carrie said. "We're expecting 300 people to show up. ... It's so amazing - they're just so proud of us."

"People are really generous when it comes to helping for a good cause," Shayna said.

But it is Shayna and Carrie's generosity that has most impressed the adults around them.

"When you see young people ruining their lives and committing suicide bombings to kill, motivated by hate, and here you see these two beautiful young women spending their time to give a sense of hope to people ... there's hope for the world," said Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom.

And the teacher who inspired this enormous project?

"She's great," Shayna said. "She got married in July."

Registration at the park starts at 8:30 a.m. An aerobics instructor from Colosseum Gym & Fitness will lead a warm-up at 9:15 a.m. The walk begins at 9:30 a.m. Prizes will be awarded in a ceremony at 11 a.m.

The cost is $25 for individuals; $20 a person for groups of 10 or more. A T-shirt is included. Those who register for $50 will be entered in a raffle for the airline tickets.

Information or registration: www.marylandcrohns colitis.com. Information on Crohn's disease: www.ccfa. org.

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