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Imagine something as silly as attempting to pull off a 5K run/walk at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. Now, couple that with comments such as “You’ll be lucky if 50 people show up for your first event,” or “Thanksgiving Day? Really?” What do you get when you combine that with sunshine, crisp air, generous hearts and gracious spirits? You would have witnessed 400 of the happiest folks in Calvert County flocking to The Arc of Southern Maryland’s Community Resource Building at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving Day for Project ECHO’s inaugural “Strut Your Stuffing” 5K Turkey Trot.

The Turkey Trot Committee was excited for the 240 preregistered trotters, but the 151 unexpected event day registrants really added to the hype. Who would have imagined such a large crowd? From the volunteers to the participants, everyone was simply happy to gather together for an hour or two and give thanks. The community’s commitment to support the homeless shelter is obvious. And if you missed it, we had some amazing turkeys and pilgrims to stir things up.

We had extended family members participate from New York, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado, and our most traveled this Thanksgiving came from Trujillo, Peru. But, our turkeys were homegrown Calvertonians.

A new family tradition has started in Calvert County to support the homeless shelter. Project ECHO extends its gratitude to the volunteer committee members, the sponsors, the participants, the pilgrims and the poultry. I’m still speechless. There are not enough ways to say thank you to such a wonderful and committed community.

We can’t wait to do it all over again in 2013.

Project ECHO also will be hosting the third annual Open House on Jan. 1 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those in the community who are interested in volunteering their time or talents at the shelter are welcome to drop by and explore their potential. The future of the 2013 year is looking very promising with a few new initiatives to offer to our residents year round.

Our first initiative is to recruit volunteer tutors to work one on one with a resident so they can complete their high school equivalency diploma. Even if residents secure housing elsewhere, we are welcoming them to complete the program after they have left the shelter with the same tutor they started with.

The second initiative is to recruit volunteers to assist parents in reading to the children. Although there are times in which we do not have children, these positions would be on an on-call basis when we do. This certainly doesn’t limit volunteers to assisting school-aged students with their homework or projects.

There are many volunteer opportunities available and probably some we have never explored. We invite the community to the ECHO House on New Year’s Day to meet our volunteers, the staff and board members to discuss potential volunteer experiences. For more information, go to our website,, or contact Trisha Gipson at or 410-535-0044, ext. 4. The ECHO House is located at 484 Main St., Prince Frederick, MD 20678.

Trisha Gipson, Prince Frederick

The writer is the executive director of Project ECHO.