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All-Star: Melbourne (Fla.) Central Catholic High and St. Joseph Catholic School, Palm Bay, Fla.

In their 15th year of participation, students, parents, teachers and community members united to raise money for a beloved teacher and coach stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease

Feb. 21, 2013   |  
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Jason Whitmore (center) smiles in amazement as hundreds of runners show their support by participating in Jason’s 5K Run, which was held in his honor on Make A Difference Day.  The 5K and a fundraising dinner raised more than $25,000 to offset some of Whitmore’s medical costs as he battles Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Jason Whitmore (center) smiles in amazement as hundreds of runners show their support by participating in Jason’s 5K Run, which was held in his honor on Make A Difference Day. The 5K and a fundraising dinner raised more than $25,000 to offset some of Whitmore’s medical costs as he battles Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
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For 15 years, Melbourne Central Catholic High and St. Joseph Catholic School in Palm Bay have rallied their community for Make A Difference Day. The schools were honored with the National Make A Difference Day Award in 2003 for a 300-volunteer shore cleanup that was inspired by a young victim of the 9/11 attacks.

This year’s inspiration was Jason Whitworth, 41, a popular P.E. teacher and cross-country coach who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease last spring. Longtime Make A Difference Day volunteers at the two schools knew immediately where they would focus their efforts: a 5K run to raise money for Whitworth’s care and increase awareness of the disease. For “Jason’s Run 5K,” they teamed with Lake Washington Fellowship, Whitworth’s church, and West Shore Junior/Senior High, where he coached last.

Whitworth — already incapacitated and struggling to breathe — made a difference to so many during his 16 years of teaching, “we needed to make a difference for him,” says Mary Loschiavo, a coordinator of the event.

Hurricane Sandy threatened to wash out the run at Central Catholic. But the storm had moved on by afternoon, when more than 500 people ran or walked in Whitworth’s honor — former students, parents and colleagues were among the participants. A fundraising dinner was held that evening, provided at a discount by Carrabba’s Italian Grill.

Between the run and dinner, $25,400 was raised to defray medical bills and adapt Whitworth’s house to his needs. The coach, wife Gayle and their two children were in awe. “I was so touched to see how much people cared,” Whitworth says.

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Make A Difference Day, the largest national day of helping others, is sponsored annually by USA WEEKEND Magazine and its 800 carrier newspapers. Make A Difference Day takes place on the 4th Saturday in October each year.