14th annual COCO race in Cheshire raises money for speech technology



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CHESHIRE — Over 400 people came out for the 14th annual Hot COCO 5K on Saturday to support Abilities Without Boundaries. 

The event at Norton School featured runners from throughout the region, as well as a fun run for kids and a one-mile walk. 

Proceeds from this year’s event go toward adaptive speech technology and speech therapy for clients in the Cheshire area.

The 5K run took athletes in a circular route along North and South Brooksvale roads. Children participated in the fun run around Norton School, while others enjoyed the one-mile walk along the Farmington Canal trail. Afterwards, participants were treated to hot cocoa, snacks and concessions in the school cafeteria and vendor stalls in the gym. 

The top runners received awards based on their age group, and all the children in the fun run received a ribbon for making it back over the finish line.

As their largest fundraiser of the year, organizers were aiming to raise $30,000 and were pleased with the success of the event. Though the downpour the night before caused some to cancel ahead of Saturday, the weather was clear when the race began at 10 a.m. Initially, they’d expected upwards of 600 participating runners. 

“We probably would have 200 more people here today if it wasn't for the forecast,” AWB spokesman Chris Loynd said. “But everybody had a great time. We raised some significant money to help us get adaptive speech technologies for our individuals. So all in all, it's a very good day.”

The nonprofit Abilities Without Boundaries has been helping those with disabilities in the Cheshire area since 1978, offering programming and employment opportunities to residents with specialized needs — currently offering services to 80 people through its programs. The COCO run was staffed by several of those individuals, and the AWB Music Program put on a performance prior to the start of the fun run. 

All the proceeds from the run go into broadening AWB’s capabilities to be able to provide care for the adults with verbal difficulties. As a nonprofit, the group uses the run to seek alternative means of funding for services, versus funding provided through the state.

“Half of the adults in our care have communications challenges,” said Amanda Barnes, executive director of AWB. “These range from nonverbal individuals to those who have cognitive or pronunciation difficulties. New technologies can help us unlock their voices. We can help our individuals better express their thoughts. However, the expense of the devices, and a speech therapist to implement them, are not covered by our usual state funding.”

Their goal, said Barnes, is to help people with specialized needs become better acclimated in the community and feel satisfied in the work they’re able to do. 

“So our top priority is for them to feel comfortable in the community, be able to work with the community, and also giving them a voice so that when they are in the community that they are accepted,” she said. 

The event was organized in collaboration with JB Sports, an event management company that hosts running events across the New England area. Many other Cheshire businesses lent their support to the run through donations and sponsorships, including local law firm Bartlett & Grippe, which donated $5,000. 

COCO runs in previous years have helped AWB purchase other resources to facilitate care, having allowed the agency to start its music program and purchase a wheelchair accessible van. 

“It impacts the greater community,” Loynd said. “There are people like this in every community that have these needs. And it's especially tough on caregivers and parents. We're hoping that the speech technology will be another success story.”

For those who weren’t able to attend the event, AWB still accepts individual donations year-round. For more information go to abilitieswithoutboundaries.org/.



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