It started 31 years ago when a group of mobile home park residents came together in Palmetto to help raise money for Southeastern Guide Dogs, which at that time began with humble beginnings.
Since then, Southeastern has grown and expanded to become one of the nation’s premier service dog training facilities for people with vision disabilities and more recently, service dogs for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. That wouldn’t have been possible without that first group of fundraisers and their ongoing efforts to provide free service dogs to those in need couldn’t happen without local support.
One of the organization’s largest fundraisers is underway with its annual walkathon. The fundraiser has expanded to nine events across the state and returns to Bradenton on Saturday morning at 808 Third Ave. W., Rossi Waterfront Park on Riverwalk.
Event festivities begin at 8:30 a.m. with a 9:45 a.m. opening ceremony. The 3K fun walk begins at 10 a.m. and a registration check-in tent will be on site. The walk is free to the public, though donations are encouraged, and your own four-legged family member is more than welcome.
Jennifer Bryan, philanthropy director for Southeastern Guide Dogs, said it’s always a family-fun day, “and fun to see all the many different kinds of dogs. If you are a dog lover, you will have a lot of fun.”
The event has grown since its humble beginnings, and it was solely a Palmetto event for many years. Since CEO Titus Herman took the helm eight years ago, Southeastern began to expand the event to other areas of the state.
“He’s really about the community,” Bryan said. “He really wanted to expand and get us out there so we’ve done some more awareness marketing about this little gem we have in Palmetto. That has a lot to do with the growth of the event.”
Bradenton sponsors, walk teams and individuals have already raised $106,353 even before Saturday’s walk begins, but that’s only about half of their goal. Everyone with a dog that participates will receive a free bandana for their dog, and vendors will be on site giving away various items.
“Everyone usually walks away with a lot of free stuff,” Bryan said. “This is our largest and most historic event and it supports every aspect of Southeastern Guide Dogs from feeding the puppies to keeping the lights on to the training we provide. And it’s just really a lot of fun.”