Cumberland Safe Passage fundraiser adds Latin-themed gala

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CUMBERLAND — This year’s Safe Passage 5K will not be just a race. It will be a party.

While the 12th annual event at Greely High School on Sunday, May 1, will feature both the race and a fun-run for children, new this year will be a Community Fiesta featuring a Cuban band and nachos bar.

Registration is available at safepassage.org/5k. Registration is $20 before race day, and $25 the day of the event, which will be from 2:30-3:45 p.m. Students pay $8 in advance, or $10 at the race, while families pay $45 beforehand, or $60 at the race.

Participants can run, walk, skip or jump during the race, which starts at 4  p.m., with the 1K children’s run taking place at 4:50 p.m. The 5 p.m. fiesta is free for everyone.

The 5K supports Safe Passage, a program founded by Yarmouth native Hanley Denning to educate children living around a Central American garbage dump.

Denning, a 1988 Greely graduate, found her life changed after traveling to Guatemala in 1997 to learn Spanish. She visited the slums around the Guatemala City garbage dump, and was inspired to start Safe Passage as way to help the children forge a life beyond the poverty into which they were born.

Denning was in Guatemala in 2007 when she died at the age of 36 in a motor vehicle accident.

Safe Passage now serves about 600 children and young adults between the ages of 2 and 21, as well as 100 mothers who come from almost 300 families in surrounding neighborhoods.

Doug Pride, a math teacher at Greely High School who ran with Denning while she was a student there, became inspired to start the 5K after visiting her in Guatemala, he said in an interview April 5.

“After our trip there, I said, ‘Hanley, I think I’m going to put together a road race to support Safe Passage,'” Pride said. “She was thrilled, and we made it happen.”

Denning returned to Maine to participate in the early years of the event, he added.

“It was wonderful; it exceeded expectations,” Pride noted. “To have it continue has exceeded expectations as well.”

Pride still puts out the race course cones. He credited the strong local support that Safe Passage has for the 5K’s continued existence.

Ann Dillon of North Yarmouth, a veteran triathlete, volunteered in January to be this year’s race director, replacing Dave Holman. She was encouraged by her daughter, Mariah Healy, Safe Passage’s associate director of development.

Since then, “I’ve learned a ton” about directing a race, Dillon said. “I’ve found some very generous helpers.”

The more she learned about Safe Passage, the more impressed she became with the organization, inspiring her to make this year’s 5K a bit more celebratory – “more like a party,” Dillon said.

She hired Primo Cubano, a Portland-based band, to play at the fiesta. When Dillon contacted band member Marc Chillemi about the gig, the trumpeter told her felt chills, because he’d played at Denning’s memorial service and was moved by the work Safe Passage does.

Some of the race prizes are being handmade by Creamos, a group of mothers and grandmothers who have taken part in the Safe Passage Adult Literacy Program, Dillon said.

While some people think Safe Passage is a thing of the past, Dillon said “it’s bigger than ever,” and has come a long way for the 40 children Denning first worked with, some of whom are now in college.

“What I want to do,” she said, “is really paint a picture for people to know that ‘it ain’t over.'”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Ann Dillon of North Yarmouth is race director of the 12th annual Safe Passage 5K event, which will be held at Greely High School May 1.

The Safe Passage 5K supports a program founded by Yarmouth native Hanley Denning in 1997 to bring education and hope to children living in the slums around the Guatemala City garbage dump.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.