The DEO Clinic had its inaugural Hope, Health, Healing run/walk Saturday, and it's "fundraisers like this that keep the clinic going," said the doctor who helped start the clinic in 2005.
"Our free clinic relies on sponsors and donors for its existence, and (the clinic provides) a very needed service in this community," said Rod Rodriguez. "I see the need for this clinic as relatively self-evident, and there are numerous stories about people who would not have gotten the care they needed without the DEO Clinic."
Proceeds from the run/walk at Haig Mill Lake Park will benefit the 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which serves individuals in Whitfield and Murray counties who are uninsured and have limited financial resources.
"I go to the DEO Clinic, and I love it," said Phyllis Hudgins, who walked Saturday. For those without insurance, the clinic "helps a lot, and the people are very friendly."
The clinic's small staff and many volunteers are "all passionate and unwavering in their commitment to the mission," Rodriguez said. "They want to do right by the community."
Individuals were able to purchase signs for placement along the route as a means of honoring, remembering or celebrating.
"We have a lot of signs," like one exclaiming "Dalton CRNA's are awesome," said Heather Donahue, executive director of the DEO Clinic "We're happy with the turnout, and the weather is perfect." A CRNA is a certified registered nurse anesthetist.
Signs could commend "someone who worked really hard during the (COVID-19) pandemic," like a healthcare professional, or an individual who won a personal battle with COVID-19, but can also "remember someone for any reason," according to Donahue. "We think it's a nice way for our community to come together."
"Something like the DEO Clinic is wonderful, (because) affordable healthcare can be difficult to get," said Karina Tugwell, a registered nurse at Hamilton Medical Center who ran the 5K alongside several colleagues. "When I was told about (this event), I said, 'We're in,' (because) the DEO Clinic is amazing."
Dracey Adams has "a lot of patients who depend very much on the DEO Clinic, and I love (the clinic), so I wanted to show my support, not to mention get some outdoor activity," said the nurse at the Hamilton Diabetes and Endocrinology Center who walked Saturday. Haig Mill Lake Park "is a great location for this, and it's beautiful."
This "is a great place to be, and my doctor has been (advising me) to do more walking," Hudgins said. "It's a good cause to help, too."
Hudgins was joined by her granddaughter, Kyra Stafford, who ran the course for the first time, Stafford said. "I ran cross country at Gladden Middle School," so she's no running neophyte.
"I never do running events, so if I make it through the race, I'll be happy," Tugwell said with a laugh. "It is a really good run, and it's in the shade, so you can run any time of day."
Tugwell plans to become more involved with the DEO Clinic, she said.
"I want to volunteer there."
And "we always need volunteers," Donahue said. "Whatever your (particular skill set), we'll put you to work."
The DEO Clinic is in the Mack Gaston Community Center, as "the city of Dalton has been instrumental in providing us space," Rodriguez said. "We've grown exponentially," and "we hope (Saturday's run/walk) is the first of many, many more annual events to come."