JOPLIN, Mo. – “Isaac blossomed so quickly,” said Laurae Howard of her 7-year-old son, Isaac’s time at Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism. Isaac is just one child who benefits from the funds raised by those who participate in the Freeman 5K and Walk for Autism which benefits Leffen Center.

The 15th annual Walk for Autism and Freeman 5K take place at 8:00 am Saturday, April 23 at Leffen Center (2808 S. Picher Ave.). On Wednesday, Freeman and Ozark Center officials announced a superhero theme for this year’s fundraising event.

“Your participation means the world to us, and without you, we simply couldn’t do what we do at Leffen Center,” said Paula F. Baker, Freeman Health System President and Chief Executive Officer. “Thanks to you superheroes, families don’t have to drive hundreds of miles to receive an autism diagnosis, and children on the autism spectrum are receiving life-changing therapy to help them lead their best lives.”

“Proceeds from the walk and run go to assist with program development and scholarships at Leffen Center,” said Edyth Spera, Leffen Center Director of Autism Services. “We provide one-on-one Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy to individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. We work individually with children and adults in sessions lasting anywhere from one to six hours, focusing on a variety of communication and language skills, early learning academic skills, play and social skills, eating, nutrition and reduction of challenging behaviors. Leffen also provides occupational therapy, speech therapy and diagnostic services.”

Howard said this approach to programming has made a big difference in her son, Isaac’s life.

“When he first came to Leffen Center, my son was non-verbal,” said Howard. “A couple weeks after he started coming, he was walking down the halls pointing to letters and saying their names. Being here with staff and therapists who know how to get that out of him has been amazing to watch. They love him just as much as I do, because they have put so much into him to help him grow and gain the skills that he has. It’s been so awesome.”

Runners and walkers are encouraged to break out their superhero costumes with capes, tights and other accessories as they join forces for this year’s event.

“We like to make this event both fun and educational for participants and families,” said Vicky Mieseler, Ozark Center Chief Administrative Officer. “This year’s event will include a vendor fair with information from local community organizations with services and supports. There will be autism awareness items for purchase and free giveaways for kids. We will also welcome food trucks.”

In 2021, more than $54,500 was raised to support Leffen Center and once again this year there are prizes for family teams that raise the most money.

“The third-place winner will receive a MARVELous pamper day,” said Mieseler. “Second place fundraisers win a DC Me Out-and-About package with various gift certificates for food and activities, and first place gets the X-tra Special Time Away package with a trip to Branson.”

Teams and individuals are encouraged to register in advance at runsignup.com/Freeman5K or call 417.347.7850. 5K registration is $35 and includes a t-shirt. The one-mile walk registration is $15 for ages 13 and up and $10 for kids ages 3 – 12. T-shirts for walkers are available for $10 more. Racers can pick up packets on April 22 from 3:30 pm – 6:00 pm or on the day of the event from 6:45 am – 7:45 am.

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About Freeman Health System
Locally owned, not-for-profit and nationally recognized, Freeman Health System includes Freeman Hospital West, Freeman Hospital East, Freeman Neosho Hospital and Ozark Center – the area’s largest provider of behavioral health services – as well as two urgent care clinics, dozens of physician clinics and a variety of specialty services. In 2022, Freeman earned dozens of individual awards for medical excellence and patient safety from CareChex®, a quality rating system that helps consumers evaluate healthcare providers. U.S. News & World Report named Freeman Health System the Best Hospital in Southwest Missouri for 2021. With more than 320 physicians on staff representing more than 90 specialties, Freeman provides cancer care, heart care, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, children’s services and women’s services. Additionally, Freeman is the only Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in a 70-mile radius. For more information, visit freemanhealth.com.
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About Ozark Center

Ozark Center is based in Joplin, Missouri and has been an entity of Freeman Health System since 1996. It has been providing comprehensive behavioral health services to children, adults, and families since 1965 in an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from the Four States. Ozark Center continually looks for innovative ways to address the behavioral health needs of the community and promote awareness of behavioral health issues in an effort to eliminate the discrimination associated with it. For more information, visit ozarkcenter.com or call 417.347.7600.

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