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WalkAmerica organizers plan event

Organizers for the March of Dimes 2007 Brookhaven WalkAmericamet with team captains Friday at the State Room to plan theirlatest step forward along the road to prevent preterm births.

The official fundraising kickoff event was only sparselyattended, but March of Dimes division director Alan Burrow said 14teams have already formed for the Oct. 20 WalkAmerica at ExchangeClub Park. Some of the teams received their paperwork prior to themeeting.

Last year, 14 teams collected more than $16,500 to help in theresearch to prevent preterm births and to support families in themidst of crisis, said Hope Smith, local chairwoman for the event.The goal is to reach $25,000 this year.

“I hope people will not have to have a premature child torealize the importance of this campaign,” she said.

Smith helped found the Brookhaven WalkAmerica three years agoafter she gave birth to Nealie Smith. Nealie was born 12 weekspremature and weighed 3 lbs. She stayed in a Jackson neonatalintensive care unit for 52 days.

The early birth led to Nealie being diagnosed with quadriplegiccerebral palsy.

“Nealie may not be able to speak, but I think she would ask thateveryone get involved,” Smith said.

Nealie’s story is not unique, Burrow said.

“We have, in our state, about one in five babies born pretermwhile the national average is one in eight,” he said. “We have thehighest rate of preterm birth in the nation. It is the leadingcause of infant mortality and a lot of children born preterm havelong-term difficulties.”

Smith said the Brookhaven Exchange Club has agreed to open thefairgrounds for WalkAmerica.

The walk for fundraisers will begin at 4 p.m. and rides willopen for the public at 6 p.m. The event will close at 8 p.m.Concessions will be open from 4 to 8 p.m.

“By doing the walk before the events, (the walkers) will beready to assist with the concessions,” Smith said.

Burrow said that WalkAmerica is the primary means to fund theorganization’s research and support networks.

“WalkAmerica is the bread and butter of our organization,” hesaid. “It is the major fundraiser.”

For more information on the event or to form a fundraising team,contact Smith at (601) 823-6748.