Showing support for area children can be as easy as running, walking or "hanging out" with fellow community members, according to one area official.

The second annual Footsteps for Families 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run event will begin at 6 p.m. May 21 at Carl Albert State College, 1507 S. McKenna in Poteau, and will be an ideal opportunity for people of all ages to show their support for children who have been abused and/or neglected, said Lance Hammon, a member of DHS's Integrated Family Care Recruitment and Support Team.

"We put on a great event then; we cut our teeth pretty well on that," he said of last year's event, which drew about 300 participants. "Hopefully, we can improve on what we did last year, as well." 

The all-ages event is hosted by the LeFlore County Child Welfare team, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services District 16, and will include a run/walk on a certified course beginning at 6 p.m. at the college's oval.

The fundraiser's 1 Mile Fun Run will begin at 6:15 p.m. Both events are held to help raise awareness about child abuse and neglect and to promote the need for foster homes in the area, Hammon said.

"We try to do anything we can to keep children from going into the foster-care system, and when they do have to go into foster care through the judicial system, we want to give them any opportunity we can for them to stay local," he said.

"We hope to place a child in the local area and keep them in touch with their community," Hammon added.

Part of the fundraiser's mission is to encourage more foster homes, he said.

"As far as opening a home to foster children, there's a lot of myths; we do a lot of myth-busting," Hammon said. "A lot of folks don't realize that just about anyone can foster children if they show they can pass a handful of checks. They have to be willing to let us come in and do a home study, look at their background and see what they have as a support system."

Annie Richard, a coordinator for the fundraiser and a child welfare specialist with DHS in Poteau, said the 5K and Fun Run are two more ways to bring the community together.

"Some people can't foster, but this race is a way for them to contribute and help our kids," she said. "It brings awareness that we do have these kids in the county, and those kids do need the community's help and support."

About 100 LeFlore County children are in foster care, Richard said.

"When a child is placed halfway across the state, it's hard to have visitation and stay connected with school and friends," she said. "In this county, we need homes where we can keep these kids connected."

Proceeds from the fundraiser will be used to assist the LeFlore County Child Welfare team in providing Christmas gifts, a Christmas skating party, clothing, personal hygiene items, school supplies, diapers, formula and other needs to area children, Hammon said.

"Thanks to the Choctaw Nation, the 5K course is chip-timed," Richard said. "We are very thankful to the Choctaw Nation for that, because that can get expensive."

The 5K course will travel down to Twyman Park, up Ridge Road/West Boulevard, circle around to U.S. 59, come up South McKenna and end at Carl Albert State College, Hammon said.

"The Fun Run will go down around Twyman Park, and it'll be only about a mile," he said. "To be honest, we wold love to double last year's attendance."  

Medals will be given out to first-, second- and third-place winners in each age category from among those who pre-register by Monday, and volunteers will be available to run with children for the Fun Run portion. 

"We don't put a number on how much money we'd like to raise, but every little bit helps," Hammon said.

Registration is $20 per person and can be completed at the LeFlore County Department of Human Services, 511 S. Harper in Poteau, and at www.eventbrite.com. Registration also can be completed onsite from 5-5:45 p.m. May 21. Donations can be made to the LeFlore County Foster Care Fund.

In case of inclement weather, the event will be rescheduled for a later date.

Those seeking more information can call (918) 839-5960 or (918) 658-4940 or visit the Footsteps for Families 5K & 1 Mile Fun Run Facebook page.

"With the race, people don't necessarily have to run," Hammon said. "They can walk or just hang out with us. They can have a good time and enjoy snacks and fellowship."