Some people decided to take a walk in the park Saturday morning. OK, a lot of people.
Approximately 3,500 concerned Collier County citizens got up early and gave up their other plans for Saturday to meet at North Collier Regional Park to help kickoff the United Way of Collier County (UWCC) fundraising campaign. The 7th annual "Walk for the Way" brought out a record crowd to the park, all in the spirit of helping others.
Teams and individuals walked a 2.5-mile path around the park, which is also home to the Sun-N-Fun Lagoon Water Park and the Golisano Children's Museum of Naples (C'mon), plus numerous athletic fields. Before the throng headed out, they were blasted awake by a rifle salute from a Marine Corps League color guard, treated to the booming beats of the Barron Collier High School Drum Line, and encouraged to loosen up by fitness instructor Nino Maggadino. Mimicking Maggadino's moves, Ronald McDonald, the clown mascot of the McDonald's restaurant chain, joined other mascots including Sunny the Turtle and Swampee from the Florida Everblades.
When the actual walk got underway, the Boy Scouts of America led the way, with a host of flags held high. The very first marchers were Scouts Traves Lander and Tristan Rosal, carrying a banner from Lodge 564, bearing the incomprehensible inscription "HVLPATAH TASTANAGJ." The Scouts, led by William Kocses, helped with the event's setup at 6 a.m., and stayed as the cleanup crew into the afternoon.
With thousands of walkers, it took some time for the whole crowd to pass by a given point along the way. At one point, the tail end of the walk was Noah Marten, 7, but judging by the speed he was going on his scooter, he wasn't going to remain tail-end Charlie for long. After the walk, the Gulf Coast High School Drum Line performed, before a repeat by the Barron Collier drummers.
Teams were identifiable by their matching T-shirts. The largest group, with 270 members, was Team Collier, made up of Collier County employees, who also raised the most money of any team, $4,661.26, to be precise. Altogether, 54 teams signed up, and more than $20,000 was raised for UWCC.
The Collier County Sheriff's Office had a big presence, starting with Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, but also including the agency's tricked out DARE car, a pair of shiny Harley-Davidson motorcycles manned by Corporals Rashaad Smith and Scott Butler, and the agency's armored vehicle. Additional local office holders and notables on hand included Naples Mayor John Sorey, County Commissioners Fred Coyle and Georgia Hiller, County Judge Eugene Turner and Krista Forgelsong from WBBH NBC-2.
Acting as emcee, radio host Dave Elliott pointed out that former Miami Dolphin stars Mercury Morris and Larry Little, from the undefeated 1972 Dolphins squad, as well as current Miami Dolphins cheerleaders Marjorie and Kylee, were on hand. After the walk, a long line formed in the gymnasium for the chance to meet the players and cheerleaders.
Boy Scout Daniel Pollitt got his picture taken with the cheerleaders, as did Robert Hodges, even though his hat and shirt proclaimed his loyalty to the Washington Redskins. All 30 United Way partner agencies, who will benefit raised in the campaign, had a presence, explaining how they help to improve the lives of Collier County residents.
"The purpose of the Walk for the Way is twofold," said walk chair and United Way board member Marla Ramsey. "First, it gives everyone in the community an opportunity to discover the role of United Way and to meet all 30 of the local charities it supports in one place. These agencies deliver services and help over 100,000 residents each year. That's one in three people living right here in Collier County.
"Second, this walk is a simple and fun way to show your community spirit. With support from our generous walk sponsors and your donations today, United Way will have a headstart toward its campaign goal, so that the agencies you meet in the gymnasium can continue to grow and help those in need in the future."
The walkis United Way's only all-inclusive, community-wide event. The campaign, with a goal of $2.5 million, runs through March 31, 2013.
For details on sponsorship opportunities through the United Way, go to "events" at www.unitedwayofcolliercounty.org.