Developmentally disabled volunteers pack 15,000 bags for Akron Marathon runners

AKRON, Ohio - When thousands of runners pick up their Akron Marathon drawstring bags at  the Health and Fitness Expo on Friday, most of them will take a peek at many coupons and samples stuffed inside, but have no idea who did the stuffing.

Over the last several weeks, developmentally disabled volunteers have been packing 15,000 bags, assembly-line style, inside Canal Place in downtown Akron.

Through a program known as BRAVO!, operated through United Disability Services, folks with cerebral palsy, autism, brain injuries or other disabilities get the chance to be a part of the marathon experience.

Dan Harris, 54, of Akron, said he enjoys filling the bags with goodies.

"I wish I could run it, but I can't," said Harris, who had logged nearly 600 hours of volunteering at various locations.

Courtney Deal, program supervisor, said packing the marathon bags helps the adult volunteers improve their social and job-training skills.

They also volunteer at soup kitchens, the Salvation Army, Akron-Canton Food Bank, Battered Women's Shelter and Ronald McDonald House.

Volunteers have logged more than 36,000 volunteers hours since BRAVO! started in 2006.

"We have helped over 35 different non-profits in our county. We are teaching the community how valuable our clients are," Deal said.

Anthony Lamb, 20, who has limited use of his left arm as a result of 1994 car accident, used only his right hand to fill the bags. Since he also struggles with his left leg, it's difficult for him to stand for long periods of time, but he was still excited about helping out.

"I'm doing it with my friends. We're working together," Lamb said.

They're are currently 20 full-time and 24 part-time participants in the BRAVO! program.

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