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Preschoolers hop during MDA fund-raiser

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Cheered on by her classmates, Applegate Academy and Preschool student, Ashli Holliman, 4, hopped like she had never hopped before. Wearing bunny ears and flailing her arms frantically, almost as if in an effort to boost her hang time, Holliman accomplished 80 hops -- each one raising a little bit of money for the Georgia Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and for children unable to hop themselves.

On Monday, students at Applegate Academy and Preschool, in Stockbridge, participated in the Hop-A-Thon, an annual fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of America. The event, according to the group's web site, is geared toward preschool and early elementary students as a way to educate students about muscular dystrophy while helping to raise money for MDA programs through pledged donations.

"It instills a sense of understanding and acceptance of all children, regardless of whether or not they can hop," said Noel Vitale, a preschool teacher at Applegate Academy, who has coordinated the Hop-A-Thon at her school for the past two years. "They learn about muscles, they learn numbers because they are counting, they see videos of children with muscular dystrophy and they learn not to be afraid of it. A lot of kids will make fun of kids who don't look like them, but with this curriculum, they see that it's OK to be different."

Georgia MDA Administrative Assistant Angie Edwards said 139 schools throughout metro Atlanta will participate in Hop-A-Thon events in March and April this year. She said the event includes a week-long disability awareness curriculum for children, which features books, videos, and hands-on activities to promote the understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities.

"It [the program] is about the differences and the sameness of people with disabilities and without disabilities," Edwards said. "When you are young, when you see somebody different from you, it can be a little scary, and perhaps with this, it makes it not so scary.

"We've been doing the program for about 10 years now," said continued. "It's pretty amazing what children can do with the help of their parents. They raised $40,000 last year [in the metro-Atlanta area]. We send kids to camp and we provide an educational service at the same time."

Edwards said Hop-A-Thon funds raised in Georgia will go toward purchasing wheelchairs for children with disabilities, and sponsoring children in Camp Walk N' Roll, an annual summer camp held at Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, Ga., for children with disabilities.

Steve Johnson, a parent and volunteer at Applegate Academy, hopped along with his child, Tyler, on Monday. He said the program is a "great awareness tool."

"You're never too young to be aware," Johnson said. "It [the program] promotes exercise and creates awareness about muscular dystrophy. This helps them know that this is a disease that needs to be cured. It lets him [his son] know that we're not here hopping for nothing."

While uncertain about the amount of money raised on Monday, Vitale said the school's 100 students accomplished a total of 3,524 hops -- each of which will raise money for the Georgia MDA based on how much their parent or sponsor donates. She believes the lessons learned from the fund-raiser will help the students in the future.

"Caring, sharing, acceptance ... we hope that they carry those lessons with them through their lives," Vitale said. "At their age, if they can grasp that they are doing something for someone else, I am happy."