La PORTE – Dragon Boats set off on Stone Lake in La Porte on Saturday in the annual racing event which not only strengthened arm muscles, but brought awareness to Dunebrook’s mission of strengthening families.

Now in its sixth year, more than 23 teams took part – the highest number ever. One team returned from Chicago and others have participated all six years.

“It's really exciting to see that momentum,” said Pamela Henderson, Dunebrook's director of grants and communications. “One of the teams had so many people on it that they had to take some of their paddlers off.”

More than 500 paddlers competed in the ancient Chinese sport of dragon boat racing. The colorful canoe-like vessels are adorned with a dragon head and tail on the bow and stern. Teams of 16-20 paddlers row in unison to the beat of a drummer who helps them stay in time. A steersman keeps the boar on course.

In addition to the races, which were open to spectators, the event offered music, food trucks, and a craft area for children.

“It's unlike anything else in the community,” Henderson said. “This is one of our beautiful lakes to have families out here enjoying the day together.”

Winning this year's event were: Division A — reigning champions Applegate and Co. CPAs; Division B — Journey Church; Division C – La Lumiere School; and Division D — American Licorice.

Michigan City resident Dan Hogan was part of the Applegate team.

“I've loved it. It's been an awesome experience just going out to help a great organization like Dunebrook and being out here on a great day. You get some exercise out of it and have some friendly competition along the way,” Hogan said.

“We brought the trophy here from last year just as fun and motivation to keep the title again."

Lisa Scheller, Dunebrook's director of development, said the event was a great start – she's just begun working with the Michigan City-based organization.

“It goes to show how well Dunebrook is represented in the community,” Scheller said. “It has been really a great event to participate in.”

Dunebrook executive director Jeanne Ann Cannon said the organization, which is marking its 30th anniversary, is funded three ways – through grants, the state and fundraising.

While the annual event serves as a fundraiser for Dunebrook, Cannon pointed out it also raises awareness of Dunebrook's services.

“We do home visitations,” she said. “We go into the home and help parents with parenting skills and family management. That can mean a variety of issues that they're struggling with. There's public education where we go into schools and empower children to take care of their bodies. It gives them a green light to say no to any inappropriate touch.”

Child advocacy is another segment of Dunebrook's services.

“When the Department of Child and Family Services gets a call and has a possible situation where there has been possible abuse, we interview the child at our facility and meet the parents," Cannon said.

"Really it's the beginning of a healing process for them. You want to break the chain of child abuse. The more education, the more people that talk about it, the better it is.”

Henderson said both Franciscan Health and La Porte Hospital allow Dunebrook to go onto their maternity wards and meet with new parents. “We have a chance to talk about our programs."

Dunebrook, Henderson said, also has cribs it can distribute to families that don't have a safe place for their newborn to sleep.

“In that regard, we're working together to keep children safe and reduce risk of infant mortality based on the situation,” she said.

The Dragon Boat Races, according Cannon, also build relationships with community companies, organizations, hospitals and banks.

“When we go to get a grant, they know what we're about,” she said.

She also thanked Dunebrook's staff and board members for their efforts.

“We're very thankful to Tim Gartland who is on our board and continues to support dragon boats, and is co-chair with Ted Perzanowski, who is our board president,” Cannon said. “They are fabulous, phenomenal and have so much energy.”

For more information on Dunebrook’s programs or volunteer opportunities, call 800-897-0007 or visit dunebrook.org.

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