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Concord nonprofit seeking solutions by spreading awareness about kids with special needs

Kennedy Strong is helping families who are navigating Down syndrome with its inaugural 5K for kids with special needs.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Charlotte family has found a unique way to spread awareness about kids with special needs by including them in a fun outing.

The founders of Kennedy Strong, a Concord nonprofit that is working to help families navigate Down syndrome, are starting the first 5K in the Charlotte area that is designed to be inclusive. They have added a special component the the 5k that is specifically designed for kids with special needs.

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Mina Hahne is just like the other kids getting off the school bus. Well, sort of.

“I had to get a surgery the minute after I was born,” Mina explained.

Mina was born with Spina Bifida, so her life has been challenging. She still faces daily challenges from Spina Bifida, which means the fifth grader was born with a lesion on her spinal cord.

And yet, she’s getting ready to run the inaugural Kennedy Strong 5K.

“I wanted something inclusive and welcoming to every kid and every ability – an all-abilities adventure course,” Betsy Boone said.

Boone is the founder of Kennedy Strong, a nonprofit working to make sure kids with Down syndrome get the help and resources and jobs they need when they turn 18 years old. 

READ MORE: Seeking Solutions: Program offers mental health help to Charlotte-area students

Boone came up with the idea for this new 5K because of Kennedy, who was born with Down syndrome. Kennedy is Boone's 8-year-old daughter. She and her twin brother are the youngest of four kids.

“We saw that a lot of kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities stay at home," Boone said. "Odds are she’s going to want to do the same thing her brothers and sisters do.”

Starting with this month’s 5K. The special race is an obstacle course with 10 different stations

“Her twin brother is Jacob," Boone said. "I want to put people in positions where the Jacobs can see the Kennedys and the Kennedys can see the Jacobs. Because Jacob ends up being more compassionate.”

Its a win-win for the kids who get to race and, as Boone hopes, also for the spectators.

“It’s really intended for if you’ve never seen anybody with a disability - come out and see people with all perceived abilities - it's less scary.”

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Mina’s mom Tiffany loves the concept. 

“I think it’s amazing," Tiffany Hahne said. "People that don’t understand disabilities a lot of times even if they just learn a few things or meet people they’re more comfortable and allows them to be more empathetic."

Mina agrees. 

“I think it’s a great idea because it shows that everyone can do the exact same things,” Mina Hahne said.

The inaugural Kennedy Strong 5K is Sept. 23 in Concord. If you’d like to participate in the race, you can find all the information here.

Contact Michelle Boudin at mboudin@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookX and Instagram.

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