Great Neck blazes trails for autism

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Runners warm up to start off the event's race in 2016 (Photo courtesy of Kara Alicakos)

Eden II Programs was established in 1976 to help those with autism reach their full potential.  From humble beginnings, including a staff of fewer than 10 people, the organization has become a staple in New York City and on Long Island. 

Today, the organization is helping over 500 participants throughout the island and boroughs, with a fundraiser, now in its 11th year, on the horizon.

Each year, Eden II partners with the Great Neck community to put on the Blazing Trails for Autism 4 Mile Run/Walk. This year the event will be held on Sunday, Sept. 8. The event  has been going strong for over a decade, and Mary McDonald, associate executive director for Eden II’s Long Island programs, couldn’t be happier.

“It’s tough to pick just one moment that stands out to me,” said McDonald, who has been part of the event since its beginning. “It’s been wonderful seeing the collective impact a community like Great Neck can really have on our kids.  From school clubs, sports teams, and simply philanthropic students wanting to help, it’s been very rewarding to be a part of.”

McDonald’s experience in the field of autism stretches almost 25 years, to go along with her activity in the special education program at Hofstra University.  After receiving a Ph.D. in learning processes from the City University of New York, she took her experience as a research assistant and became a part of the Eden II team.

“It was my dream to run a school for kids with autism,” she said. “I was humbled for the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of children and their families, just like we have done with events such as the Blazing Trails Run/Walk.”

The four-mile race begins at Great Neck South High School, with a route around the Lake Success area. Awards are broken down into categories based on gender, age and weight class, and though the event’s main goals are spreading autism awareness and raising money, the competition is nothing to take lightly.

“People absolutely take this race seriously,” McDonald said. “That’s what is so great about having this race as a tradition in the community.  It’s something people of all ages look forward to, and want to do well in.”

For those who wish to exert some muscles, but not to that extent, there is also a mile-and-a-half-walk.  Despite there being no awards for walking, the door prizes ensure that anyone can win, with a grand prize of a $500 bicycle courtesy of BrickWell.  All proceeds will go toward a $50,000 donation goal.

The event will take place at South High School on Sunday, Sept. 8, with the race beginning promptly at 8:30 a.m.  To register for the run/walk, visit www.eden2.org.

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