Silliness for a good cause

wacky HZTThe Saugerties Wacky Ramble returns to the village on Sunday, Sept. 15. For those who missed the inaugural event a year ago last May, the Ramble is a unique fundraising event that offers lighthearted fun while benefiting local families of children with cancer or other life-threatening illness.

Here’s how it works: Teams of four to eight people are given a list of wacky tasks to perform and then set loose in the village for a few hours. Teams receive points for each task accomplished, with extra points given in the form of Wacky Coins, purchased at minimal cost by onlookers who dispense them to teams they find particularly entertaining. Themes and costumes are encouraged, and a cell phone or digital camera is required of each group to document the completion of tasks. At the end of the day, the team with the most points wins, and prizes for the winners and best costumes are awarded at the after-party held at Saugerties Performing Arts Factory (SPAF).

The exact nature of the wacky tasks to be performed is kept secret until the event, but Ramble organizer Nancy Donnelly Swart said there will be superheroes, cow milking and car racing; the latter at Sawyer Motors, who are one of the event sponsors along with Elna Magnetics, Benson Steel, Blue Mountain Snacks and Mid-Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union. Town & Country Liquors will fund the after-party at SPAF.

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The Wacky Coins with which to reward the ramblers are available pre-event at Main Street Restaurant, W Couture and Kid Around, or they can be purchased from volunteers who’ll be out and about during the Ramble.

Inspired in part by the village’s whimsical Bed Races and the offbeat Zombie Crawl, the Wacky Ramble “is really just about spending time together as a family for a good cause,” says Swart. “And that it’s okay to be silly.”

The motivation to raise money for families coping with pediatric cancer began when Swart’s youngest son Zach was diagnosed in 2007 with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia. As Zach began chemotherapy and the family rallied round, Swart realized the importance of having that support system. With the assistance of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley (a nonprofit that helps individual donors to distribute money raised for charitable purposes), she established “For the Love of Zach,” a fund through which Swart can raise money to help other families coping with the same circumstances as hers. In addition to utilizing her talents as a jazz singer to produce a CD of original songs that send a message of hope to other parents of seriously ill children, distributed to over 1,000 pediatric hospitals and clinics across the country, Swart organized the first Saugerties Wacky Ramble in May of 2012.

The inaugural event raised almost $6,000 to benefit families in Ulster County through a combination of sponsorship, team participation, donations and a grant. “It was a success beyond our expectations,” Swart says. “And the teams had fun. We had 20 teams of creative people that came out—people dressed like the Flintstones, and Where’s Waldo, and a group of seven women with one eye painted black and flowers coming out on top of their heads who called themselves the ‘Black-eyed Susans.’”

The beneficiaries of this year’s Ramble will be the Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation (www.fighttobehealed.org) and Myles of Smyles Foundation (www.mylesofsmyles.org), both established by mothers who lost young sons to cancer and chose to carry on their sons’ legacies by helping other families.

When Swart’s son Zach had a relapse shortly after the first Ramble, both groups stepped in to help. “’Nick’s Fight’ came to our rescue,” Swart says. “They helped us through Christmas, and to maintain some kind of balance. They offered gas cards and food, and you know—hospital food gets pretty tiresome after a while. Then Myles of Smyles raised money so we could spend some special time together as a family; we went to Boston for a week and went to Disney.” Zach, who just entered junior high school, is currently undergoing chemotherapy again.

Jen Arcadipane is a special education teacher at Mt. Marion whose friendship with Swart goes back to when they were teachers together years ago. She participated in the first Ramble, forming a team with her best friend and their kids, and will be out there again at this year’s event. “What I liked about it was that it just seemed like something fun that you could do with your kids and help the greater good at the same time,” she said. “It was a lot of laughs along the way, but no pressure. You wanted to complete all the challenges, but really it was just a way to make a lot of good memories—a great opportunity to do something good to help a friend who has a bigger vision and have a little fun, too.”

Arcadipane says that she’s not a shy person, so performing karaoke or doing a dance in public didn’t embarrass her at all. “And it also showed the younger people who participated that the whole community could get together to raise money for a worthy cause,” she said. “I try to teach my children to think of others and not just themselves, and this shows them that doing good for others and having fun are something that can go hand in hand.”

Swart says they’d like to have more onlookers this time around, as it makes it more fun for the ramblers when they get a reaction from people. “And many of the tasks are interactive,” she said. “People can get involved with a pirate sword fight (foam swords, of course) or join in on a game of duck, duck, goose.”

Teams meet up at SPAF at 169 Ulster Ave. at 11:30 a.m. when registration begins. (Pre-registration is encouraged online at www.lyricsfromtheheart.com or on the Saugerties Wacky Ramble Facebook page.) Ramblers head out to accomplish their tasks from 12:30–2:30 p.m. before heading back to SPAF for refreshments at the after-party. The sign-up fee for a team is $50. Teams can travel by car or by foot. Rain date is the following Sunday, Sept. 22. For more information, email nannyjazz@yahoo.com or visit www.lyricsfromtheheart.com.

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