Ready. Set. Fundraise.
by Laura Sachs Hills

When it comes to raising funds for health causes, the list of events seems endless. Consider the American Cancer Society, Children's Miracle Network, The Alzheimer's Association, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and it is clear that fundraising for important causes is a fantastic way to pull a community together.

The amount of work required to make such events successful is great, however. Organizing a huge fundraiser can be daunting and is likely one of the challenges that keeps more physicians from becoming involved.

Time is money, and often it's easier to simply write a check to support a cause. But can getting involved at the ground level provide a more rewarding experience? Most definitely, according to associates of the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition's Riverfront Run.

The organization is preparing for the 2nd Annual Riverfront Run, a 5-K run and 1-mile walk to be held along the banks of the Flint River in Albany on Oct. 15. The event brought in over 500 participants and nearly $30,000 in its first year. Money raised goes to the Cancer Care Fund, a sub-fund of the coalition's Foundation, which will use the money for cancer awareness, research, prevention and treatment of cancer patients in southwest Georgia.

"Physicians see the immediate impact of diseases such as cancer and often express a desire on the part of the patient or the family to have a local impact on a disease," says James Hotz, M.D., clinical services director for Albany Area Primary Health Care and interim director and board VP for the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition. "It gives people a chance to direct some effort into something that will benefit people devastated by this disease. People want to join the fight and, though physicians are on the frontline everyday, people want to know that their physicians are in the fight as well."

But signing up runners and passing out T-shirts are minor aspects of a fundraiser. More important are the community partnerships that such an event can create, as well as the patients whose healthcare needs are met with the proceeds collected.

"Our goal isn't just to raise money, but to promote healthy lifestyles," says Christi Sheffield, marketing and public relations coordinator for the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition. "That's why our corporate sponsors are so important to this event. Not only do they support the run financially, but they get their employees involved and encourage them to take on healthier lifestyles as well. In addition, it's great for employees to see that the company they work for is willing to support such causes in their community."

The Riverfront Run is the result of the dedication of Albany cancer physician Jose Tongol, M.D., an avid runner and biker who participates in marathon events benefiting various health causes. In southwest Georgia, the incidence of cancer is roughly 35 percent higher than elsewhere in the state.

Sheffield encourages other physicians to follow Tongol's lead and offers a recipe for success. "Whatever health cause is near and dear to your heart is worth fundraising for," she says. "First, it's important to get buy-in from your local community and the businesses there. Also, such events can be time consuming, so it's important to have a team of volunteers who are as compassionate about the cause as you are.

The Cancer Care Fund already has drawn attention from around the state, including Emory University and the Georgia Division of Public Health, who are looking at it as a model for cancer fundraising programs that can be created throughout Georgia. For more information on the Riverfront Run, call (229) 312-1700 or visit the event Web site at www.riverfrontrun.com.

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