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Youths served by charities, enjoy Christmas cheer

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

Several metropolitan Atlanta charities received some much needed money, from a local charity at the Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) Thursday.

More than 38 organizations, all 501C-3 charities, were awarded checks at the 12th annual "Jingle Mingle" said Shaun Birindelli, director for the Atlanta chapter of Speedway Children's Charities.

Recipients included A Friend's House, Cure Childhood Cancer, and the Henry County Parks and Recreation Department's Special Olympics program.

The concept of Speedway Children's Charities originated more than two decades ago, said Ed Clark, AMS president and general manager.

"It's actually something that we started back in the early 80s in Charlotte [N.C.]," said Clark. "Our chairman, Bruton Smith, his family lost a child to crib death. He decided he wanted to do something that benefited children."

He said the group's Atlanta chapter was founded at AMS in 1994.

"It's special to him [Smith] that it impacts children, that's how it all began," added Clark. "We're pleased that we can do it, and help a lot of children out. I wish we could do more."

"Jingle Mingle" provided holiday entertainment for metro Atlanta area children. Some of the festivities the children took part in were,

face-painting, decorating Christmas cookies, making holiday tree ornaments, and taking rides around the track in an AMS pace car.

The event was organized by Speedway Children's Charities, which distributes money to various children's organizations.

"The neat thing about [it] is when you give to Speedway Children's Charities, and we give the grants, you're not just helping one type of organization," said Birindelli. "You're helping the Sunday School teacher whose grandson has cancer, or the single mother who has to use an after-school program, or the Boy Scout who needs a scholarship to participate [in Scouting].

"You're helping such a wide range of organizations, that you're really reaching so much more of the community, and able to touch so many more different people and groups that way," Birindelli continued. "We're putting a face on charities."

Organizations who were awarded checks previously applied with Speedway Children's Charities for the grant funds. Santa made his way to the recipient's table, to personally hand over the check, as the winners were announced, during dinner in the AMS media center.

Birindelli said, for the first time, an award was given out in honor of a Speedway Children's Charities board member, Buster Dickerson, who died this past year.

Terry Nash, therapeutic coordinator for the Henry County Parks and Recreation Department, received the Buster Dickerson "It Is What It Is" award.

Since its inception in 1998, Speedway Children's Charities has given away more than $1 million, said Birindelli.

Thursday's event was a way to give some needed financial assistance, she said.

"This is where we give out our grant checks to our grant recipients," she said. "We gave away over $160,000 this year."

Following dinner, children were lined up by a door leading to the track, waiting their turn to ride in an AMS pace car for a lap around the track.

In another room, youngsters climbed onto Santa's lap to ask for holiday gifts.

"I think people sometimes get wrapped up and forget what Christmas is about," said Becky Sorenson, president of the Atlanta chapter for Speedway Children's Charities. "To me, this is a [culmination] of the whole year of working to get money to give to people. This symbolizes what we should all be working towards -- giving. This is a great way to celebrate the season, with the people we give to."

Sorenson said the money is distributed to charities helping the greatest number of children.

"We try to touch as many as we can," she added. "If you can make one difference in one child's life, then you've accomplished something."

Rhonda Stamey, an Atlanta chapter board member for Speedway Children's Charities and the wife of District III Henry County Commissioner Randy Stamey explained why she is involved with the organization.

"The reason I'm a board member is that the charity reaches out to many charities that I support, in the community and in the county," she said. "What's exciting about that is...I get to be a part of a lot of charities. To be with these children, and to be with the people that are involved, it's amazing."

Stamey said the "Jingle Mingle" provided an opportunity for her to socialize with the children in a holiday setting.

"Like tonight, you get to see...so many charities and organizations that work for kids," she added. "It's such a positive atmosphere, to be together, to do things, be a part of the Speedway, and be a part of the track. What I enjoy the most is getting to be hands-on with each one of them."