ANDOVER — In the sea of hundreds of people that filled The Park on Sunday, Jeffrey Hassel, executive director of Lazarus House Ministries, pointed out a group of girls dancing and singing along to the music that filled the air.
“When kids are dancing and whistling, you know things are good,” he said. “There is a lot of joy here right now, and joy is what drives Lazarus House.”
The annual Hike for Hope, hosted by Lazarus House, was held Sunday. About 500 people registered to participate in the 5K and the new Kid’s Fun Run event.
“The main goal (of the event) is to try to connect people to the ministries of Lazarus House,” Hassel said. “We are raising money so every day we can better help Lazarus House.”
The event brought together community groups and people from all over the Merrimack Valley for games, food, music, and of course, giving back. For many in attendance, it was a special day that allowed them to reunite with old friends.
Edwin Bonilla, of Lawrence, participated in the 5K for his fifth year alongside his long-time friends Charlie Woodard, also of Lawrence, and Brendan Hale, of Methuen. All three are guests of Lazarus House Ministries and come together each year for the walk.
“I love walking with everyone,” Bonilla said. “I want to keep doing it for as long as I can.”
Woodard and Hale said they look forward to walking alongside their friends and catching up with people they haven’t seen in a while.
“We do the walk to help those less fortunate than we are,” Woodard said, adding that Lazarus House offers a number of services. From housing to nourishment, the ministries also provide activities such as sewing and cooking classes.
Woodard expressed his gratitude for the organization and said he feels extremely fortunate to have Lazarus House play a role in his life.
The day kicked off with the Kid’s Fun Run, for children ages 10 and under, followed by opening remarks from Dave McGillivray, longtime race director of the Boston Marathon and founder of the Hike for Hope. Hundreds of people then strode along the starting line of the three-mile course that took them through the streets of Andover.
Many of those in attendance sported white T-shirts designed by Bancroft Elementary School student Max Doran.
Doran, 10, a fifth-grader at Bancroft, was chosen as the winner of the event’s new T-shirt contest, where kids were asked to enter and draw a picture relating to the theme “It’s Cool to Care.”
His colorful drawing featured two people of different races with their arms wrapped around each other, facing a tall tree with falling leaves shaped like hearts — and it presents an important message.
“It’s about acceptance,” said Doran. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, boy or girl, anything.”
By the end of the walk Sunday, Hike for Hope had raised over $114,000 of their $158,000 goal — about 72 percent of what they hope to raise, according to the Lazarus House website.
Donations will be accepted until the end of October.
Hassel said each individual who donated, or those who received sponsorships from others, were considered a part of the Lazarus House family.