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Freed to Run marathon series expected to reach its $2.25 million goal with a little help from an Olympian

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The endowment will permanently fund an attorney who is embedded at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and takes referrals from pediatric providers whose patients are confronting illnesses exacerbated by poverty-related legal issues

Mike Freed

Mike Freed

Jacksonville native and Olympic athlete Garrett Scantling will be the lead runner kicking off the Freed to Run 5k, which will finish at the Duval County Courthouse Saturday, November 19, at 4 p.m., when the event is expected to have reached or exceeded its $2.25 million goal to endow Jacksonville Area Legal Aid’s Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership (NFMLP).

The 5k is the last leg of a multi-marathon event that begins November 14 in Tallahassee, with relay teams of runners completing a marathon on each of six consecutive days. Freed to Run began in 2017 as a solo act by Gunster’s Mike Freed and has since inspired hundreds of runners and dozens of companies and organizations to join him in the annual effort, now in its sixth year.

While donations have come from individuals and a broad cross-section of the region’s leading businesses, law firms, health-care organizations and others, the fundraising effort would not have succeeded without Baptist Health’s 125% match on all donations, according to the organizers. Baptist Health, which created the endowment in partnership with JALA, early on agreed to match JALA’s $1 million fundraising pledge with its own contribution of $1.25 million.

The endowment will permanently fund an attorney who is embedded at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and takes referrals from pediatric providers whose patients and their families are confronting chronic and debilitating illnesses exacerbated by poverty-related legal issues. The proceeds will also cover paralegal and other support needed to operate the NFMLP.

Fourteen marathon relay teams representing the health-care, legal and business communities have gathered pledges of support and will each complete one of six marathon relays over six days, beginning on the steps of the Florida Supreme Court November 14 and ending on the lawn of the Duval County Courthouse November 19. VyStar Credit Union has committed to running all six marathons alongside event founder Freed for the second year in a row.

“VyStar is honored to have team members participating in all six marathons again this year to help raise awareness and support for local pediatric patients and their families,” VyStar CEO Brian Wolfburg said. “This is an opportunity for us to live out our purpose to do good across many of the communities we serve, and we are so grateful for the other teams and individuals who are giving their time and energy to this incredibly worthwhile cause.”

A number of sponsors help make the event possible each year, including Jacksonville Transportation Authority and Elite Parking Services, which help by getting runners to their starting points.

“We are grateful that the JTA is once again joining Elite Parking to provide transportation to runners,” Freed said. “We could not pursue this creative fundraising model without transportation. The JTA is so much more than a local transportation agency – it is a true community asset.”

Through the NFMLP, attorneys — including JALA staff attorneys and pro bono attorneys identified by JALA — have tackled legal issues from access to health coverage to educational accommodations to safe housing matters for nearly 1,600 pediatric patients and their families over the last five years.

Examples of children and families helped include a child born prematurely whose first 25 days in the NICU were not covered by Medicaid until the NFMLP was able to get retroactive Medicaid established; a woman seeking temporary relative custody of her minor cousin in order to make education and medical decisions for them; and a mother looking to become guardian advocate so she could continue to assist her medically complex child after they turned 18.

The cases are referred by providers at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Nemours Children’s Specialty Care-Jacksonville, UF Health Specialty Pediatric Clinics, and Community PedsCare, a pediatric program of Community Hospice & Palliative Care.

In addition to the marathon relay teams, five teams will participate in a 5K on November 19, the final day. The teams are all listed on Freed to Run’s online giving platform at jaxlegalaid.org/freedtorun, where donations can be made in the name of individual teams.

While Freed to Run is expected to meet its initial fundraising goal of $2.25 million, the amount needed to permanently endow the NFMLP, the event will continue in future years. JALA will soon announce another project that future fundraising from the event will support, and its leadership is actively seeking an organization willing to match future donations.

Anyone interested in supporting Freed to Run may contact JALA Chief Development Officer Dennis Harrison at [email protected] or 904-356-8371, ext. 296.

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