Erica Nash knows firsthand about the importance of community support. Nash, who suffers from cerebral palsy, joined the Friendship Circle of Washington this summer as the director of its Walk With Friendship, which will be held next month. Now in its second year, the walk is one of the Friendship Circle’s two major fundraising events that help support the organization’s work with special-needs children and their families.
Nash emphasized the importance of programs like the Friendship Circle in the lives of parents of special-needs children.
“I was really lucky in that my community supported me,” she said of her childhood growing up in Providence, R.I. “[My parents] were the ones that needed the network of people around them, but they are so tapped into the community in Providence that they created what they needed.”
The Chabad-based Friendship Circle provides that community for families who can’t create their own, offering home visits and mentoring for special-needs children by local teenagers and young adults. It was this work that originally attracted Nash to the organization.
“I initially went in to talk about being their volunteer coordinator,” Nash explained, “And they said, ‘We have this event, what can you do with it?’”
But Nash, who came back to non-profit work after a seven-year break, said her role with the Friendship Circle is more than just a job for her.
“This isn’t about [money],” she said. “This is about me finding something that I can contribute to the community.”
(JTNews spoke with Nash in April after she sustained injuries stemming from her cerebral palsy in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.)
The Walk With Friendship, which will be held on October 13 at Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island, is an event to both support the Friendship Circle community, and to bring visibility to the organization and the families it supports. As part of her role as the Walk With Friendship director, Nash has been pounding the pavement, trying to spread the word about the event to potential participants.
“Regardless of what someone can give this year, if they see something there, they’ll gravitate toward it,” Nash said of the event.
Last year’s Walk With Friendship raised $56,000, but this year’s goal — a whopping $100,000 — is almost double that. In addition to encouraging individual participants and teams to register, Nash has also been working closely to partner with local businesses interested in supporting Friendship Circle in its mission.
“Everybody’s been open to talking about what’s the best fit for them to be involved,” said Nash, who has already connected with more than two dozen business who will be sponsoring the walk.
However, Nash said the Walk With Friendship is more than just a fundraiser.
“The first thing that [the directors] told me was, ‘We want this to be a community event. It’s not just a fundraiser,’” she said. “ It’s a community festival.’”
The community aspect of the Walk With Friendship translates to every aspect of the event. Nash said many people want to get involved in something physical and healthy, but most events tend to be running-oriented. The fact that the Walk With Friendship is a walk instead of a run makes it more family-friendly. Participants can also choose between a 5K or 1K loop.
Nash has tried to spread the word about the event using social media, taking to Facebook to encourage participation in the event.
“I love social media because it lets people be a part of things at their own level,” she said. “Organizations like Friendship Circle thrive off of it because you can get people’s stories out there.”
There were 350 participants at the 2012 Walk With Friendship, but Nash expects a huge uptick this year. With the outreach she’s done in the Seattle area, she hopes that between 500 and 600 people will actually attend the event.