WILKES-BARRE — A new 5K run in Wilkes-Barre will give participants a chance to help the local branch of an organization that provides housing and job support to people with disabilities — and might give runners a chance to fall in love.
Community Options will hold Wilkes-Barre’s first Cupid’s Chase 5K run at 10 a.m. Feb. 11 in Kirby Park. Money raised will help support individuals with disabilities in the local community, and runners will receive shirts that denote them as “available” or “unavailable” in hopes of sparking romantic connections.
Regional vice president of Community Options Brian Dion said the non-profit organization offers residential and employment support in 35 cities across the country.
The Cupid’s Chase race, he said, is coming to Wilkes-Barre for the first time, because operations are relatively new to the area.
“We’ve been in Luzerne County for about three years,” Dion said. “Out of our Wilkes-Barre office, we give employment support to about 100 individuals in high schools as part of a transitional program that the state funds.”
In addition, Dion said, Community Options runs 13 group homes in Luzerne County for adults with disabilities who require 24-hour assistance.
The race will act to spread awareness of the services Community Options provides and will go toward expenses for services not covered by the state, Dion said.
Peter Fisher, executive director of Community Options from the Pocono offices, said the race, held yearly on the Saturday of Valentine’s Day weekend, is the largest simultaneous race in the country, taking place in each of the 35 cities the non-profit delivers services.
In Wilkes-Barre, administrative assistant Amanda Bidgood organized a kickoff party where 50 gift baskets were raffled off to help reach the race’s ultimate goal of $7,000.
Bidgood said the Wilkes-Barre office felt grown enough and stable enough to hold its own event this year.
“We’re trying to make this a big hit and an even bigger hit as the years go on,” she said.
Encouraging community involvement and quelling the stigma that exists toward group homes are two hopes for the inaugural Wilkes-Barre race, Fisher said.
“We have a day program that is not center based,” Fisher said. “Our day program is being integrated into the community.”
Utilizing a $1 million grant, the Community Options transitional program partners with local businesses to offer students between the ages of 14 and 21 two hours of paid work during each weekday in hope of providing meaningful experience and, eventually, gainful employment.
“Our philosophy is the only way you can gain true independence is by being integrated into the community,” Fisher said. “I believe a community does better when everybody in the community has a chance to have a better life.”
While attending the race and making a difference in the lives of people in her community, one Cupid’s Chase participant had a difference made in her own life.
Community Options program manager and behaviorist Kalie Feigenson met her companion, Dr. Marc Chianese, at last year’s run in Princeton, N.J.
Feigenson said she had no intention of meeting someone at the event but ended up going to dinner with Chianese after a nervous introduction.
“We both came to realize that we shared a common passion and love for helping others,” Feigenson said. “From there on, our relationship quickly blossomed. We fell in love, and our connection only grew and continues to grow.”