‘Run for Rita’ 5km will help build sensory room for Leon

By Aideen O'Flaherty

AN eight-year-old boy from Kilnamanagh, who is non-verbal and has autism and a sensory processing disorder, will be the beneficiary of this year’s Run for Rita event – with the money raised from the 5km run going towards building a sensory room for the young boy.

The annual Run for Rita event, now in its seventh year, is held in memory of Kilnamanagh woman Rita Savage, who passed away in 2008 as a result of breast cancer.

Glenda Curtis with Vanessa and Leon Hughes compressor

Glenda Curtis (left) with Vanessa and Leon Hughes

The event started as a “one-off” event in 2014 but has grown each year thanks to the support of the local community.

Each year a different charity or cause becomes the beneficiary of the funds raised through the event, and this year the money raised will go towards the development of a sensory room for eight-year-old Leon Hughes.

Glenda Curtis, the event organiser and Rita Savage’s daughter, told The Echo: “I put out the message, like I do every year, that I was looking to see if there was anyone local I could support through Run for Rita.

“Vanessa [Hughes, Leon’s mam], who’s done the Run for Rita for the past few years, sent me a long message about Leon.

“She got in contact and said that Leon goes to school in Mourne Road, where there’s an ASD unit, and that he’s classed as non-verbal, but he does have some words.

“His senses are really heightened – he’s over-sensitive to things in his environment, and common sounds and lighting are painful and overwhelming for him – so he gets a huge amount of use out of the sensory room in his school.”

Sensory rooms offer a variety of activities for children who are on the autism spectrum or have additional needs, including bubbles, fibre optic lighting, interactive wall panels and soft play items, which can aid in calming them down and helping them to cope with overstimulation.

“They wanted to have the sensory room in their house,” explained Glenda, “but they have two other kids and they don’t have space in the house for it.

“So, Vanessa and her husband Luke are going to purchase a log cabin instead and put it in their back garden and they’re going to put a sensory room in it for Leon, where there’ll be things like wall panels and a bubble machine.

“It’s going to be totally decked out as a sensory room. The family needs this, as it can calm Leon down and it will be his own little space.

“It would’ve cost the family around €12,000 or €13,000 to get this done, which is money they don’t have, so it’s a good thing for us to get behind.

“Hopefully the community will make this happen, and it’ll be another great thing that the community will have done.”

Last year, the run funded the training needed for a dog, called Jangle, to be a companion dog for six-year-old Max Gaynor from Kilnamanagh, who is non-verbal and has autism.

According to Glenda, the young boy and his dog now have a very strong bond, and having a companion dog has helped Max immeasurably.

Run for Rita will take place on Saturday, March 28, in Tymon Park at 3pm, and you can register via Pop Up Races, or by contacting Glenda on 087 958 3714, or you can register on the day from 1.30pm in the park ranger’s house.

Entry is priced at €20 for adults, €10 for under 16s, and a family rate of €50 (two adults and up to four children).

Refreshments will be served and a raffle will be held in Kilnamanagh Community Centre following the race.

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