The Fort Payne Optimist Club hosted its 11th annual Race to Embrace on Friday.

The field day, held at the Fort Payne High School Wildcat Stadium each year, aims to provide special needs students from around the county a day of outdoor activities, snacks and fellowship.

Brian Baine, Fort Payne City Council president and Optimist Club president, says he has been involved since the beginning of Race to Embrace, and it’s one of his favorite days of the year.

“After all the hard work and long hours you put in to try and ensure that everyone has a good time at Race to Embrace when you see that smile on that first participants face it is worth all the long hours that you have spent to do it,” Baine said. “Words just can’t describe the feelings I get from doing all of this, knowing all the excitement that builds leading up to this day each year for the participants is simply overwhelming to me. I would have to say this is one of the best days of the year for me.”

The Optimist Club’s mission in the community is “Bringing out the Best in Our Kids,’ and Tricia Dunne, Optimist Club board member, said this was visible Friday as adult volunteers and students from the high school spent the day assisting participants with the various events. An estimated 600 to 700 volunteers were present to help, and a total of nearly 400 participants from Fort Payne City Schools, DeKalb County Schools and The ARC of DeKalb County came to spend the day.

The morning began with an opening prayer and the “Star Spangled Banner” sung by Ryan Pearson, who has participated in every year of Race to Embrace. The Fort Payne ROTC led the crowd of students and volunteers on a lap around the track, each school donning a homemade banner for the race. Participants were then able to play various sports, water games, bouncy houses, use a dunking booth and meet with local police officers and firefighters throughout the day.

This year, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Payne Fire Department, Fort Payne Lion’s Club and many other organizations set up and helped with the events. The Optimist Club was also able to add several new vendor trucks, including snow cones, cotton candy and “A Little Something Extra” Ice Cream Truck, a new local business owned by Michelle and Anthony Norwood, of Crossville that supplied free snacks to participants.

Dunne said the annual event would not be possible without all of their local help.

“We couldn’t do it without all of our sponsors,” she said. “We’ve had some of the same people sponsoring us for the last 11 years. We don’t have to aggressively fundraise for this event, people know what it means and what it is, and we greatly appreciate all of them.”

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