Cupcake 5K to raise awareness for Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation Center


By Sam Schrage, Staff writer

For years now, Toya Ward has relied on Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation (CUSR), not only for programming for her two daughters with special needs, but also for support, as it serves as a second family.

Ward’s two daughters participate in CUSR’s after-school program as well as other events and activities. Ward said the center has given her a sense of peace in knowing that the staff is trained and willing to give her daughters the care they need.

It’s families like the Wards who are directly impacted by events such as the fifth Annual CUSR Cupcake 5K. 

The Cupcake 5K will be held Sunday at Dodds Park, and is open to runners, walkers and is wheelchair accessible. The race begins at 9 a.m., however, registration opens at 8 a.m. Registration is also available through the CUSR website.

Participants enjoy a cupcake and win raffle prizes after the race for a registration fee of $25. All the proceeds benefit the CUSR scholarship program that helps pay a portion of programming and transportation fees for activities like summer camp, the after-school program and adult programming.

One of the main goals of the Cupcake 5K is to bring awareness to CUSR and to reach out to the community for support.

“The more that we get support from the community, it kind of opens up different outlets for us and what we’re willing to do,” said Caitlin Hitzeman, CUSR adult coordinator. “We do try and work with other organizations that are similar in our community. Having something like this where we can reach out to them starts those conversations with other organizations to see if there is something new or different we can offer for our participants.”

CUSR also hopes to expand its “family” to include other members of the community that need a support system or want to play a role in events like the Cupcake 5K.

Rachel Voss, Hays Recreation Center receptionist, said she thinks CUSR is beginning to build a group with strong relationships.

“We always want more people to get involved, and I think the Cupcake 5K has been really great for CUSR to show that we really are just one big family,” Voss said.

Having events like the Cupcake 5K where individuals with disabilities can interact with other community members is extremely important for participants in the CUSR programs so that they can feel included and accepted by the community.

“It’s important for individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities to socialize with the public and the community and feel welcomed and not feel like they are anything different than they should be,” Voss said.

For Ward, her hope is that the Cupcake 5K will encourage others in the community with disabilities to learn about CUSR programs and the community willing to help and support them. She said she hopes those in the community know about the services CUSR offers, whether they use them or not.

“It opens opportunities for people in the community to participate as a recipient or a volunteer,” Ward said. “The people in our community that participate need to know that they are loved and supported like everyone else in the community.”

Besides the Cupcake 5K, CUSR also organizes and provides recreation programs and athletic services to residents of all ages with disabilities.

Some highlights of this year’s events were the center’s trip to Comic-Con and its participation in the Special Olympics. If not for CUSR, many of these opportunities would not be available for program participants.

“I think creating new opportunities for people is important and promoting socialization allows participants to interact with peers and community members,” Hitzeman said.

From a mother’s standpoint, Ward said the best part about CUSR is the sense of normalcy and comfort her children feel when they participate in the programs.

“This offers them a place of comfort where they don’t have to worry about being looked at as different or ‘not normal,'” Ward said. “Everyone is accepted, whether you have a disability or not.” 

To those who work with the disabled or at CUSR, their goal is to make a difference in the lives of the people they work with, even if it is just for a short period of time.

Hitzeman said working there is humbling. “When you spend a weekend with someone who has a lot of needs we have to attend to, it gives you a different perspective on life,” she said. “To know that we’re helping and making a difference in their lives is a great feeling.”

Above all, the Cupcake 5K is meant to unite the community and to set aside each other’s differences to bring awareness and joy to a great cause.

“It will give everyone the sense of unity,” Ward said. “People won’t see disabilities or abnormalities, but only humans loving each other.”

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