Running to make a difference

You've probably heard the saying, "Run for your life." But for many participants in the 3rd Annual Dell Country Mile 5K run or 1-mile walk July 12, the idea of running is about more than challenging athletic stamina — it's about improving the quality of life for others in need, as well.

Sponsored by the Tree of Friends Foundation — ToFF — the run/walk will be held at Dell Brothers Grain, a farm on Sullivan Road in Westminster, with proceeds going to support the Gina Maria Barnes Warrior Foundation, the Jake Offutt Foundation, and other areas of need within Carroll County.


"My husband and I came up with the idea three years ago to start the race to help Gina Barnes, a mother of [three] kids that my oldest son, Garrett was in class with. She was battling cancer at the time. We didn't really know them but we just wanted to help," said Lindsay Dell, whose family owns the farm.

Dell said she went to her friend Jessie Boog, co-founder of ToFF, and the race was born. A nonprofit, ToFF was founded with the goal of bringing awareness to areas of need within the community by offering services and donations to those in need under the guidance of the Community Foundation of Carroll County. The community foundation exists to " maintain and enhance the quality of life in the community of Carroll County through philanthropic means," according to its website.


Dell said they had 350 runners for their first run in 2013. The turnout in 2014 was almost as big, with 250 turning out. She said she hopes to see it grow this year.

"It is wide-open country land where you can just come run and enjoy the country scenery. And you are helping out people who really need our help right now," she said.

She said Gina Barnes was at the first race but lost her battle with cancer in November of 2013.

After she died, Gina's husband, Erik Barnes, formed the Gina Maria Barnes Warrior Foundation with her mother Linda Dearing.

"We had a lot of community support when she got sick," Barnes said. "Gina referred to those people who were there for her as her warriors and her prayer warriors. When she passed, in her eulogy I mentioned the tremendous support. There were some funds left and we vowed to pass that onto others. We created the foundation to honor her memory and keep her legacy of selflessness and giving to the community strong for our three children [Alex, 14; Sophia, 12; Jake, 5] and her [extended] family."

According to Barnes, Dearing and Tony Christiani, Gina's brother, started Gina's Comfort Fund at Carroll Hospital's cancer center to help others who are fighting colon cancer like Gina. The Comfort Fund is part of the Gina Maria Barnes Warrior Foundation.

"The Comfort Fund provides services to patients fighting colon cancer," Barnes said. "It could help with [medical] co-pays and incidentals like a housekeeping service when they are too tired to clean, groceries, gas gift cards so they can get to treatment and things like that."

Barnes said the foundation also funds two $1,000 scholarships to graduating female lacrosse players in Carroll County who will be continuing the sport in college while pursuing an undergraduate degree at an accredited college, university or technical school. They presented the first two scholarships just a few months ago.

"It's a good way to keep her memory and the legacy strong and give back to the Carroll County community," Barnes said.

The funds the foundation receives from the race/walk will go toward the comfort fund, their scholarships, and other areas of need as decided by the board of directors.

"It's also important to me because the community was so supportive of us," Barnes added. "I could go on and on about how much they did for us. I feel it's necessary to give back. It's a chance to say 'thank you' and support the community as they did for us."

Dell said she read about Jake Offutt's fight with cancer in the Carroll County Times.


"I have three kids and another one on the way and this just hit me," Dell said. "I couldn't imagine going through this with your only child. It was something I couldn't shake and I knew that we should help them, too, this year. My husband, Doug, and I wanted to do this because we've been through hard times with our family, too. When people step up for you that is what helps you get to the next day."

Jake, 15, was diagnosed with brain cancer in December 2014. Though surgery removed part of the tumor, a portion remains embedded in his brain stem. He is currently being treated with aggressive chemotherapy.

Jake's mom, Leah Offutt, said the portion of the brain with the tumor is the part that controls breathing, eye sight, swallowing, and other natural responses. But the tumor is now only part of Jake's struggle.

"Jake has been faced with a more serious health issue than his brain cancer," she said. "When your child is diagnosed with brain cancer you think that there is nothing worse, but we were wrong."

An aneurysm, unrelated to his cancer, nearly took Jake's life on March 24. The aneurysm caused numerous physical difficulties. Walking became a new challenge. Now, he is in physical therapy, gaining strength to walk again and dreaming of running, all the while continuing with his chemo treatments.

"Jake is making great improvements each day, and from week to week you can see a noticeable difference in his strength," Offutt said. "We are so proud of how hard he is working to help himself improve."

Offutt said it is hard to put into words what it means when people come out to support Jake at fundraising events.

"First of all, I see us as just regular Westminster residents who are nothing special, but then I look at my son and I see something amazing," she said. "I believe that is what people see. They see a boy who has touched their heart in some way and they honestly want to help. Our family is so touched by the outpouring of love and support from the community."

Offutt said the money they receive from this event will go directly into Jake's medical fund through the Community Foundation of Carroll County.

"There is no way we could do this on our own. We are extremely, truly touched and grateful," Offutt said.

Dell said the 1-mile walk begins at 1 p.m. and the 5K run begins at 1:30 p.m. They will have bottled water and Baugher's fruit, both free and on hand for participants.

"We enjoy having everyone come here to run these trails and courses," Dell said. "It is beautiful. You can run or walk, and you can bring your kids. It's a family event and a way to remind your kids that no matter what you are going through it could be worse."

If you go:

What: 3rd Annual Dell Country Mile 5K run or one-mile walk


When: Sunday, July 12, 2015. The one-mile walk begins at 1 p.m. The 5K run begins at 1:30 p.m.


Age: All ages are welcome. Children younger than 16 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.

Where: Dell Brothers Grain, 903 Sullivan Road, Westminster

Cost: The one-mile walk costs $20 per person if registered before July 9, or $30 if registered after or day-of. The 5K run costs $30 per person if registered before July 9, or $40 if registered after or day-of. Individuals can pick up a registration packet at the farm from 1 to 3 p.m. July 11, or register at noon the day-of.

Sponsorships: ToFF is also accepting sponsorships for the run. All proceeds will go directly to the Gina Maria Barnes Warrior Foundation, the Jake Offutt Foundation, and other needs within the Carroll County Community.

For more information: Call 443-507-0667 or email info@treeoffriends.org. or register on the web at http://www.treeoffriends.org.

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