Fundraising feet

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Most Saturday afternoons, residents can be found walking their dogs, running to the sounds of their iPods or playing sports on one of the city’s many grassy fields. Others are out enjoying picnics, skateboarding underneath I-95 or just relaxing in the sun at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park. Although most affectionately call this neighborhood space The Lakes, the green haven at 20th Street and Pattison Avenue has recently become known for its numerous nonprofit walks.

Last year, the Philadelphia Arthritis Walk called this venue home for the first time and again in May, joining in a partnership with the Phillies and shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

"Since the stadium [Citizens Bank Park] is in South Philly, we wanted to walk in the same vicinity," Phillies Community Development Manager Cheryl Lutz said. "We really try to invite the community to the walks. It’s a great community park and we absolutely love the area."

With just under 400 people participating in its most recent event to raise awareness and funds to fight arthritis, Lutz said the group found the space fit its needs perfectly.

And they aren’t the only ones.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual Light The Night Walk will celebrate its 10th anniversary Oct. 18 by making a move a bit more south. After outgrowing its Penn’s Landing route, they consulted with the Arthritis Foundation to discuss logistics, as well as to learn more about working with the Fairmount Park Commission, which runs the city’s 63 parks.

"With over 5,000 walkers last year, Penn’s Landing just got to be too small of a space," Light The Night Campaign Manager Chandra Rulf said.

With seven walks in the surrounding counties, Light The Night’s goal this year is $1.8 million. The Philadelphia location, which doubled participants over the past two years, remains the largest with 6,000 walkers and an estimated $600,000 coming in.

"I think it’s wonderful how Light The Night has grown over the recent years," crew team captain Erin Fitzpatrick, of 15th Street and Oregon Avenue, said.

After stumbling on a magazine ad for the walk six years ago, Fitzpatrick is astounded how much publicity and momentum has developed for the cause that raises funds to find cures for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

According to Mark Focht, Fairmount Park Commission executive director, over the past five years the number of nonprofits using the parks for benefit walks has increased. The Lakes generally supports about eight to 12 events per year, he said.

This particular green space has certain advantages others might not offer such as, according to Focht, a leveled trail, easy access to public transportation and plenty of parking.

"There will be less congestion [than at Penn’s Landing], parking will be easier and the route of the walk itself will be better organized," Fitzpatrick said.

Spanning 1.6 miles, almost a half-mile longer than the previous spot, the course covers The Lakes’ perimeter.

"The route is the perfect size," Rulf said. "It was kind of tricky last year because Penn’s Landing isn’t that big so we had to double-back."

She’s also optimistic about the change of scenery. Tents will be laid out on the field between the boathouse, gazebo and American Swedish Historical Museum, onsite at 1900 Pattison Ave. Top fundraisers, crew, volunteers and walkers will gather there to remember loved ones before the walk.

"Light The Night is a way to honor my father [Kevin] and a best friend [Veronica], who both battled cancer," Fitzpatrick, who coordinates a team of 15 to 20 family members and friends each year, said. "For me, raising money and participating in this walk is a symbol of hope and one more step closer to reaching a cure."

As this and other walks continue to climb each year, it bodes well for the charities, as well as the surrounding communities.

"It’s a great thing for people to get organized and get together to do this," Marilyn Chandler, a Lakes’ frequenter from 18th and Titan streets said about the number of walks in the neighborhood space.

And if all goes well, Light The Night will be back next year.

"I think the process of having a lot of different organizations who have walks to raise awareness while using parks in the association for benefit events is a really good thing," Focht said.