VICTORVILLE — As upbeat music echoed through the campus of Victor Valley College, nearly 500 people danced as fitness coach Laura Streppone led them in a warmup prior to the start of the annual High Desert March for Babies.
On Saturday, Suzanne Richards, CEO of the Victor Valley Global Medical Center. Shenis also chair of the local march, told the crowd they were part of an army of 7 million walkers in 900 communities across the U.S. They are walking to insure that generations of babies are born strong and healthy.
“Whether this is your first year or your 44th, you are a part of something great,” Richards said. “I am so looking forward to a fun and meaningful day here with you all.”
Tom Schibusch, who has participated in every High Desert march since 1976, greeted the crowd along with actors Robert Pine and Larry Wilcox who starred together in the TV show “CHiPs.”
“I love coming up here to the High Desert and walking with you all,” said Pine, who was participating in his 24th year of walking with Schibusch.
Pine said there aren’t any excuses for anyone unable to recognize him or Wilcox because the Internet makes it possible to watch reruns of the show that was popular more than 30 years ago.
“If you don’t think Larry and I were ever young, take a look online. We were kinda studs back then,” said Pine, as the audience laughed. “Memories are nice aren’t they?”
Jennifer Moen fought through tears as she shared how, after suffering through the loss of a prematurely born daughter and several failed pregnancies, she and her husband, George, now have a deep conviction to help other families and the generations of babies yet to be born.
According to Richards, the Moen’s perseverance embodies the “true spirit of the March of Dimes,” as the couple, chosen as the “2015 Mission Family,” made every effort to find a way to have healthy babies.
Besides families and individual participants, Richard’s ‘GlobalTrotters’ from the VVGMC was one of many teams that wore colorful T-shirts as they walked, jogged or ran the one-and-a-half mile route, once or multiple times, around the lake and through the campus.
As local vendors and groups handed out water, painted faces, sold snacks and handed out materials, Ricki Hill, development manager for the MOD, said the High Desert event was on course to set another fundraising record.
“Over the last three years, this event has really grown,” Hill said. “In 2013 we raised under $100, 000. Last year, we made $104,000. And this year, so far, we’re at $110,000 and counting.”
During an earlier MOD kickoff breakfast in Hesperia, officials with the local group said each dollar raised helped in the reduction of pre-term birth rates in California from 9.6 to 8.8 percent.
Hill said she credits Richards, the local MOD committee and the High Desert community for the continual increase in funds and for adding about 150 walkers more than last year.
“Whether it’s at work or at the March for Babies event, Suzanne Richards’ attitude and energy is infectious,” said Lori Gutierrez, a registered nurse who lives in Hesperia. “Suzanne is such a genuine person. It’s easy to see how she generates so much excitement in the community.”
Schibusch said he’s planning a big celebration for 2016, which will be his 40th year of walking in the march. He also said he plans on reuniting the original group that walked with him almost four decades ago.
“I drive up two hours from the San Fernando Valley to march because I want to contribute on behalf of my friend, Tom, and the March of Dimes,” Wilcox told the Daily Press. “The world is about children, and if we can educate more people about all of the things that they need to be aware of, people and their babies would be much healthier.”
Wilcox said people often get so busy and apathetic in their own lives. They neglect the people who are hurting and need a support system.
“We, as human beings, are here for one reason, to help each other,” Wilcox said. “Many times celebrities participate in these events as a vehicle for publicity or to get recognition, and that’s wrong. You either come here to hug somebody’s heart or don’t come.”
For more information on the event or to make a donation, call 760- 879-6452 or visit marchforbabies.org.
By Rene Ray De La Cruz for vvdailypress.com