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By MARK SCOHIER
Organizers are gearing up for another year of “ the roughest, wildest, most challenging canoe race in America.”
The Wild Hog Canoe and Kayak race, which is coming up on its 37th anniversary, covers 15 miles down the wild Waccasassa River between Bronson and Otter Creek.
This year’s event is scheduled for April 26, with the race beginning at 9:30 a.m. and entertainment and food scheduled to begin at the finish line a little bit later in the day.
“It’s lookin’ pretty good,” said Wild Hog President Keith Maynard. “We’re way up on our sponsors. We’re gonna’ raise a lot more money this year.”
The event, besides offering a day of “old fashioned country fun and fellowship,” raises funds for Levy ARC, an organization dedicated to providing a safe atmosphere for the intellectually and developmentally disabled in the Tri-County Area to live, learn and work.
Maynard said the issue is important to him, personally, because he has a couple of members of his family who are affected by disabilities.
Organizations such as LARC “help them learn and activate their minds,” he said. “There are a lot of organizations we could help ... but these are people who cannot help themselves.”
Maynard said it’s important people, locally, get involved, considering that funding from the state continues to be an issue for people with disabilities.
LARC Director Betty Walker said she’s excited about this year’s event. “They do such a good job,” she said about the organizers. “It’s very important. It helps keep us in business.”
Walker, who was up in Tallahassee a couple of weeks ago to lobby for more support, said funding is a constant challenge.
In Florida, there are about 30,000 disabled persons receiving help from Medicaid waivers for community-based services such as those provided by organizations like LARC, according to the state. Another 22,000 are still on a waiting list.
The community, businesses and local officials, in years past, have always been supportive, Walker said. “( And this year ) It’s gonna’ be even better. These guys are working so hard, and we are so fortunate to have people like that.”
ARC of Florida Executive Director Deborah Linton said LARC is lucky to have a community that is heavily involved.
“It’s just amazing,” she said, especially considering the need. The state hasn’t implemented any huge cuts in a few years, she said, but it hasn’t, in that time, added much, either. The waiting list continues to grow and overall expenses continue to climb.
“We’re hitting that crisis point,” she said.
The ARC of Florida’s main focus in Tallahassee this year was trying to convince legislators that care for developmentally disabled babies and children would be done better within the community.
“Most of these children are medically fragile,” she said, adding that working families are often unable to provide the care these children need.
The state spends about $500 per day per child for institutional care, she said, though it would work out a lot cheaper if Medicaid waivers would pay for services that come into homes or place children in local facilities.
“These services are critical to families who are struggling to keep their families at home.”
Fore more information about the race or for directions, visit www.wildhogcanoerace.com.