Nonprofit hosts annual 5K at FAU

The annual event spreads disability awareness and raises funding for employment assistance.


Hundreds of participants came out to the Stand Among Friends seventh annual emb(race) event. Alexander Rodriguez | Contributing Photographer

Hundreds of people showed up outside of the Florida Atlantic College of Nursing in the parking lot Sunday morning to show their support for a cause that focuses on disabilities.

Stand Among Friends is a nonprofit organization that helps college students and adults find, prepare and secure employment. Over 800 people with disabilities have secured employment with the help of this organization within the past three and a half years.

On Sunday at 7 a.m., the nonprofit hosted its seventh annual run, which included a 5K and a 1-mile family walk.

The nonprofit organization was created back in 1997 to spread awareness and educate the community about disabilities. In 2006, the organization formed a partnership with FAU and established its office on the Boca Raton campus at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing building.

Shawn Friedkin, founder and president of Stand Among Friends, was a newly married man who wanted to start a family. On March 12, 1992, two weeks before his 28th birthday, Friedkin was involved in a car accident that paralyzed him from the chest down.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (far left), councilman Scott Singer (center left), Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie (center right), and Shawn Friedkin (far right) at the center stage for the opening ceremony. Alexander Rodriguez | Contributing Photographer

Today, Friedkin continues to help other people with disabilities while embracing his own and sharing his story to inspire others. The run was created to bring the community together and allow others to share their stories.

“You got to realize that it feels like you’re alone in the world,” said FAU alumnus John Vega.

“They snapped me out of it, helped me get through that barrier and ever since, the whole world opened up for me,” said Vega.

Stand Among Friends helped the alumnus to step out of his comfort zone and secure employment. Vega worked for the Department of Defense and is now currently working for the Social Security Administration.

FAU mascot Owlsey stood at the finish line high fiving every participant that finished the race. Alexander Rodriguez | Contributing Photographer

Vega attended the run for the first time Sunday morning. The 5K started at 7:45 a.m. and the 1-mile family walk began at 9 a.m.

By 7:45 a.m. the sun was beginning to peak and hundreds of participants with and without disabilities lined up to begin the 5K. Friedkin greeted them at the starting line and thanked everyone for coming out and supporting the cause.

It took the participants about 15-25 minutes to finish the 5K. As they reached the finish line, they were cheered on and greeted by the FAU marching band, the FAU dance team and the FAU mascot Owlsley.

Participants were also awarded with medals and water after the first run.

“It’s such a great cause and a beautiful run,” said Boca Raton resident and 5K participant Kathy Mullett. This was her second time attending the event.

The opening ceremony started at 8:30 a.m. with the playing of the national anthem. Friedkin gave a short speech thanking everyone who participated and shared a brief summary of Stand Among Friends.

“It’s wonderful to have you guys out here making a difference … the whole purpose of the race is that we come out here and embrace each other’s differences,” said Friedkin.

Alongside Friedkin was U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch, Councilman Scott Singer and Mayor of Boca Raton Susan Haynie.

Dan Gabrielle (left) has been friends with Shawn Friedkin (right) for 24 years. Alexander Rodriguez | Contributing Photographer

“This is a beautiful sight today, I’ve been here many years and I’ve never seen such a wonderful crowd,” Mayor Haynie said. “This is what makes Boca Raton such an amazing community, because of leadership like Shawn and his team.”

After Friedkin and Haynie spoke, the family walk began at 9 a.m. and participants lined up with their families.

“I’m always out to fight for different causes,” said Rubin Dessein, participant of the family walk and sophomore business management major at Broward College. Dessein’s main inspirations are his grandmother, who had cancer, and his uncle, who is a veteran unable to walk.  

As the 5k race began, those with physical disabilities lead the race from the start. Alexander Rodriguez | Contributing Photographer

Participants of the family walk were awarded with medals at the finish line.

Following the family walk, the award ceremony was held at the main stage for participants that completed both runs. Awards were given to individual teams, corporate teams, those who were the most spirited, mobility impaired and top overalls in each race.

“It’s a community thing, supporting whatever the needs are, and that’s what Stand Among Friends is,” said Dan Gabrielle, friend of Friedkin for 24 years and supporter of the nonprofit organization.

“He is the guy … Shawn is an incredible guy and he never complains,” said Gabrielle.

Alexander Rodriguez is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @AARodriguezz93.