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More than $1 million raised for medical-legal partnership through Freed to Run marathon series

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Freed to Run check presentation

JALA President and CEO Jim Kowalski, center, and Gunster Shareholder Mike Freed right, founder of Freed to Run, present a check for $180,000 to Cindy Reynolds, senior vice president and chief philanthropy officer of the Baptist Health Foundation. The funds raised through Freed to Run 3.0, with a 125% match from Baptist Health, will provide $405,000 to help fund an endowment at the foundation for the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership. In three years, Freed to Run has raised more than $1 million including the matching funds.

With the donations from Freed to Run 3.0 counted, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid is now nearly halfway to its goal of creating a $2.25 million endowment for the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership, having raised $1,035,000, including Baptist Health’s 125% match.

“I’m so thankful for the broad community support that has made this possible,” said Gunster’s Mike Freed, who on the final day of the 2019 event ran his 18th Freed to Run marathon in three years. “The involvement of the Jaguars Foundation, Florida Blue, the Jax Chamber, Community First Credit Union, Jacksonville University, and the UNF School of Music really shows that the appeal of this cause goes well beyond the legal community.”

Another community group, the Women’s Giving Alliance, was among the top Freed to Run fundraisers. The philanthropic group made the top 10 on the leaderboard, along with Gunster’s Mike Freed; the JALA staff and board of directors teams; Fisher, Tousey Leas & Ball, Harrell & Harrell; Florida Blue; the Truck Accident Law Firm; and the offices of State Attorney Melissa Nelson and Public Defender Charlie Coffer.

Many of these teams were returning for their second year, as were the teams from Akerman, Forbes & Gilham, and Abel Bean Law, although Freed to Run 3.0 also attracted a number of new teams, with a total of 22 teams in 2019 compared to just 14 the year before.

Freed to Run proceeds and the match from Baptist Health go directly an endowment that will permanently fund the medical-legal partnership, through which JALA staff and volunteer attorneys provide civil legal aid to the area’s pediatric patients and their families whose legal problems adversely impact the children’s health.

From a child with asthma whose landlord is failing to address mold in the family’s apartment to one whose school is not making educational accommodations required under federal laws protecting students with disabilities, about 200 pediatric patients a year are referred to JALA by health-care institutions throughout Northeast Florida.

“Our role in the partnership is to advocate for the removal of barriers that prevent these children from achieving their optimal health and well-being,” said JALA CEO Jim Kowalski. “We have been tremendously successful at that, but we just couldn’t do it without the private support. So, we are deeply grateful to all of those who have run, raised money, sponsored, donated, and made in-kind contributions. And we give a special thanks to our event co-chairs: Darnell Smith of Florida Blue, Ryan Ludwick of Fisher Tousey, and Eric Krall of Community First Credit Union, as well as of course Gunster’s Mike Freed, without whom none of this would have happened. He is a force of nature.”

One of the many companies providing sponsorship or in-kind support is Elite Parking Services, which provides bus transportation from Jacksonville to the starting location of each marathon and back home each day, as well as along the route for the relay teams as they swap out runners. They were back for their second year, as were a number of the finish line sponsors such as First Place Sports, JTC Running and Cross Creek Steakhouse & Ribs.

Adding to the finish line fun this year, the Jaguars sent Jaxson De Ville and the ROAR to celebrate the more than $400,000 raised for area kids and JALA presented a check to Baptist Health with the proceeds. The following week Phillips & Hunt sponsored a FUNdraiser at the DUUUVAL House prior to the Jaguars v. Colts game, rounding out the fundraising year for Freed to Run.

“We invite anyone who’d like to help us reach our $2.25 million goal to reach out to us in 2020,” Kowalski said. “If you are active in a company or community organization with a philanthropic program, we want to hear from you — whether it’s a golf tournament, a charity auction or a bake sale — no effort is too big or too small.”

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