Miles for Smiles achieved its goal, and then some.
When Kristin and Dean Huibregtse organized the benefit 5K walk in memory of their son Bennett, they were expecting maybe 150 participants.
“We had 245 people register,” Kristin said as she surveyed the crowd at Gilfillan Farm in Upper St. Clair. “We are just so humbled that all these people came out to support Bennett and to support us.”
The July 25 event, held a year after Bennett’s passing, benefits Always B Smiling, the nonprofit founded by the Huibregtses in December. Dean credits its success in a short period of time to what they are striving to accomplish.
“I think it’s the right kind of mission, to create smiles for children with health challenges and their families,” he said.
The first Always B Smiling program is adaptive bicycle riding, providing the opportunity for youngsters to experience something that Bennett always enjoyed. Registration for the rides, which are offered for free from 2 to 4 or 4 to 6 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 30 at Tandem Connection in Cecil Township, is at https://alwaysbsmiling.org/home-page/bike-rides/.
As the program wraps up, special “Boos and Bikes” events will be scheduled in advance of Halloween, according to Kristin. She said the long-term goal is to establish an activity center along one of the area’s trails.
During Miles for Smiles, participants walked the Gilfillan Trail, which loops around the farm. Hosting the event was Horses With Hope, a therapeutic riding program in which Bennett was a longtime participant.
The nonprofit recently moved its home base to Gilfillan Farm, where the horses are joined by other four-legged friends, such as a pair of myotonic, or fainting, goats.
Along with the unexpectedly large turnout of participants, Miles for Smiles drew plenty of support from businesses offering food, refreshments and activities: Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream, Dunkin’ Donuts, Gasoline Street Coffee and the Little Gym of Peters Township.
Vitalant conducted a blood drive in Bennett’s honor across Route 19 at the Upper St. Clair Volunteer Fire Department’s main station during the event.
And back at the farm, vendors were on hand with plenty of information about available resources, including the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Continuum Connect – CHC Solutions and the National Kidney Foundation. Bennett was born with autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease.
“All the therapy programs he was in, everybody remembered Bennett from all ages, from 3 to 16½,” his mother said. “It was really, really a special time for us.”
Dean is enthusiastic about so many organizations supporting the Always B Smiling cause.
“It’s all a natural tie-in,” he said, “and that’s where I think the momentum for what we want to do in the future is going to continue.”