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Shannon Everett and Joty Vandellingham

(Left to right) Shannon Everett and Jody Vandellingham pictured together.

In the heart of every community is the beat of compassion, the rhythm of unity, and the stride toward a brighter future. Nowhere is this more evident than in the annual 15th Jog-A-Thon at Encinitas Country Day School organized by Shannon Everett and Joty Vallandingham.

The idea is simple: get a group of young children together to raise money for children suffering from heart defects in developing parts of the world. But the mission is so important: to teach these kids the power of community and service while changing the lives of children just like them.

For more than 15 years, this is what Shannon and Joty have strived to do. To make a difference, one heartbeat at a time. One of the slogans common on the shirts of these kids sums it up perfectly: “From Hearts That Can, For Hearts That Can’t”.

This highly-anticipated event is the accumulative work of dozens of dedicated individuals who champion the vision of offering a brighter future to underprivileged children in developing nations. This is not just a run; it’s a race for hope, a sprint for life.

15th Annual Jog-A-Thon Details:

  • March 22, 2024
  • Encinitas Country Day School

A Legacy of Compassion: The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree

Shannon Everett has a long history with Gift of Life.

Shannon Everett and Joty Vandellingham (1)

Pictured Shannon with her father, Chad Everett, at the annual Jog-A-Thon.

Her parents, Chad and Shelby Everett, were deeply involved with the organization. Her father served as the international spokesperson for Gift of Life, while her mother received the Angel Award following her passing. Now, Shannon Everett feels privileged to carry on her parents’ legacy by continuing their impactful work.

Shannon’s love for this kind of work was born out of her own experience. She first got involved with Gift of Life in 2008 when she sponsored a young girl from the Dominican Republic to fly to California to receive life-changing surgery.

Witnessing firsthand the profound impact on the young girl, Everett was deeply moved.

“We met her and her mother for dinner before the surgery and you could see how much this heart condition had taken a toll on her. After the surgery, she was like a new person. It was incredible to see such a powerful transformation.”

This initial experience sparked inspiration and Everett set out to make even more of an impact.

After starting a family with her husband, Todd, she decided to approach the principal of her children’s school, Kathy Porterfield, about organizing an event to raise funds to provide medical care for children in developing countries who are suffering from treatable heart conditions.

And so, the yearly Jog-a-Thon was born.

Its inaugural run took place in 2009, generating a substantial sum of $15,000. Everett and fellow organizers had anticipated around $5,000 at best, but they surpassed their projections significantly—the Jog-A-Thon proved to be a resounding success! Everett expressed, “[we] were over the moon, and it became [our] sole focus.”

Running for Hope & Leaving a Mark

Participants of the Jog-A-Thon enjoying a post run popsicle!

Every year, hundreds of children ranging from Kindergarten to 8th grade gather, lace up their running shoes, and pin on their race numbers. Parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends stand at the sidelines cheering. The energy is palpable, crackling with excitement and purpose.

For many of the children, the Jog-A-Thon is a highlight of the school year—a chance to make a tangible difference in the lives of others.

“Often we donate to charity but we don’t see the results- here we do,” Everett said.

These kids take pride in knowing that their efforts contribute to helping children like themselves who are less fortunate. The teachers, too, wholeheartedly embrace the Jog-A-Thon, utilizing it as an educational platform to teach lessons of empathy and compassion. Pictures of the children who receive the proceeds for medical care adorn the classroom walls, serving as a poignant reminder of the impact of their fundraising efforts.

“The families at Encinitas have been so generous. They have really enjoyed and participated and reached out,” she says.

“When people come to do tours of the school, it’s great to see a school willing to host an event that raises such a significant amount of money and then gives all of it away–none of it goes back to the school. Year after year, the school has been teaching the kids the value of service and how they can come together in a united front to help other children who are not as privileged as they are.”

Pictured Shannon Everett with two of her children, Faith and Dawson, with a visiting child that had received the gift of life.

She continues on to express that “It is a blessing to be a part of, it really is.” The Jog-A-Thon is not merely a race—it is a celebration of community, resilience, and generosity. Everyone, from the youngest participants to the seasoned organizers, plays a vital role in its success. Donations for children’s heart disease are at the foundation of the work we do.

Parents and grandparents join in the festivities, providing encouragement and support every step of the way. Despite the physical challenges posed by the event, the children approach it with boundless enthusiasm and determination.

Some have run over 30 laps in just 30 minutes, a testament to their unwavering commitment to the cause. As Shannon Everett reflects on the Jog-A-Thon’s impact, she expresses gratitude for the opportunity to continue her parents’ legacy of service.

Their dedication to the cause inspired Shannon to carry on their work with renewed passion and purpose. As the next Jog-A-Thon approaches on March 22nd, let’s remember those less fortunate and the fortunate ones who serve them. For in the end, it is our collective efforts that truly define us, leaving an enduring legacy of hope and healing for generations to come.

 

If you know a child that has heart disease and needs help, you can refer a child here.

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