The Hope Express organizers have pushed for it to become a national initiative through the newly created Virtual Hope Express, which includes similar runs in different states as a way to raise money for and awareness of pediatric cancer, said spokeswoman Heather Manning.
Those other states are Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Texas.
The Hope Express is in its eighth year, and organizers wanted to have a date that showed the significance of what the charity is all about. Founders Connie and Hank Angus picked Sept. 15 for Virtual Hope Express, because it was on that date in 2004 that their son, Gabriel, was diagnosed with leukemia, Manning said.
All money raised will go to Thon.
Money raised goes to the Four Diamonds Fund through Penn State Hershey Medical Center to financially help children and families affected by pediatric cancer.
The first major kickoff is the Hope Express run, created in 2007 to bridge the gap between the families at Hershey Medical Center and the dancers at Thon.
After raising $94,860 last year, the goal is to exceed $100,000 this year, Manning said. She added that this year’s goal is possible with the extra support from Virtual Hope Express.
“It has become nationally known with help from within our Pennsylvania communities,” Manning said. “I think this is the future of the Hope Express as it continues to grow. It’s not only about raising money for the program at Penn State Hershey, but raising awareness on pediatric cancer nationwide. That’s the whole mission.”
To date, the Hope Express has raised more than $240,000 for the Four Diamonds Fund.
In the first year, it had only 16 runners, Manning said. This year, there are 54 runners.
And to organize the growing race, a third team called the Conquer Team was created in addition to the Hope Team and the Extreme Team, Manning said. Each team will run a different route and meet in State College.
The runners will leave Penn State Hershey between 5 and 6 p.m. Thursday and are expected to make it to the Nittany Lion Inn by 3 p.m. Friday.
From there, the groups will run together to the BJC, where they will be greeted by Thon participants.
“That’s kind of the highlight of the race, when the runners can meet up with those partaking in Thon,” Manning said.
This year, there are six runners from Centre County, including two Four Diamonds moms: Jodie Potter, of Philipsburg — mother of Corban Potter, 4; and Renee Messina, of State College — mom to Isabella, 12. On Dec. 4, 2011, Corban was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. In 2003, Isabella, was diagnosed with leukemia.
The other local runners are State College residents Danielle Stemple, Kylee Ammerman, Sarah Eissler and Jenn Schweighauser.
While the Hope Express run is the organization’s main initiative, Manning said the group raises money all year with bake sales, car washes and, most recently, cookbook sales.
Potter, along with other Four Diamonds families, created a cookbook with more than 450 recipes. The books sell for $10 each, and all money goes back into the Four Diamonds fund.
Potter said that the recipes come from Four Diamond families and their friends and families.
The run is still in the planning stages, and Manning said that it will include an obstacle course.
“The whole purpose is to continue in the fight against pediatric cancer and to spread the word,” Manning said. “When we literally get people from across the country involved, it makes a world of difference.”