By Michaela Gibson Morris
NETTLETON – Brandi Dabbs isn’t a runner, but she had to chart a course.
Inspired by her son Dawson’s struggles with autism, the Nettleton mom founded the Small Town Run Around 5k to support the Autism Center of North Mississippi. The third annual race will start at 9 a.m. April 5.
“Steven (her husband and Dawson’s dad) is the runner,” Dabbs said. “I like to plan and do.”
She wanted to do something to help connect parents and children with the diagnostic, therapy and advocacy services that have benefited her son, who is now 10.
“He’s come a long, long way,” Dabbs said. “Therapy – that’s been the saving grace.”
Dawson began showing signs of autism at age 3, but it took years to get an accurate diagnosis because he is so high functioning. When he was 8, the Dabbs family connected with the autism center, which was formed in 2009.
“It was awesome,” Dabbs said. “We made leaps and bounds.”
The autism center not only has helped Dawson directly with occupational and speech therapy, but it also helped Dabbs advocate effectively for Dawson at school.
“The school has really stepped up,” Dabbs said.
When Dabbs started floating the idea of a 5k, her father, Nettleton Alderman Charles Morris, encouraged her to bring a proposal for the run to the town board.
“They were all about it,” Dabbs said.
In 2012, more than 100 people took part in the race, and even more came out to support the run.
“It was more than we anticipated; I was thankful,” Dabbs said. “Last year we doubled it.”
More than a race, the Small Town Run Around has taken on the air of a town festival with inflatables and children’s activities.
“We wanted to make it special, especially for the kids on the spectrum,” she said.
Dabbs said she’s been overwhelmed by the community support. Over two years, the race has raised $10,000 for the autism center.
“They said, ‘We want there to be help for the kids that need it,’” Dabbs said. “I just squalled at the end.”
The efforts of Dabbs and her family, as well as Nettleton volunteers, have been heartwarming for the center’s staff, said Brittany Cuevas, director of business development for Autism Center of North Mississippi.
“We are all in this together,” to aid children with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities, Cuevas said. “They need our help, and (the center) needs volunteers like Brandi and others who support the Small Town Run Around.”
For information and registration, visit smalltownrunaround.com.