As a young man, Gary L. Houck Jr. had a dream, and that dream became a mission: to help children of abuse have the chance to grow up safe and happy.
Houck formulated the idea for a charitable fund, prepared a mission statement and chose a board of advisors to carry out his mission.
Then, at the age of 29, Houck took his own life. Out of that sadness came some hope, because Houck left behind a legacy that has become "The Kids' Trust," a fund established for children of abuse.
After Houck's death, grieving friends and family gathered to try to make some sense of their loss.
Chad Madden, a close friend of Houck's and a physical therapist, had an idea that evolved into an annual fundraiser. In the past nine years, the fundraiser, called "Run On The Roof," has raised more than $185,000.
The money raised is given to various agencies that help children, to prevent child abuse and aid children of abuse. In Lebanon County, those agencies include the Sexual Assault Resource and Counseling Center, the Good Samaritan Physician Services, the Cornwall Borough Police Department and domestic violence agencies.
The annual event has become something of a local icon, one of the more unusual ways in which to raise money for a cause.
At Madden Physical Therapy, at 5425 Jonestown Road, a 400-pound treadmill will be hoisted to the roof of the one-story building via a crane, and runners will do 30 minute or hour-long stints on the treadmill for a total of 24 hours. Participants reach the 12-foot high roof by way of a construction stairwell.
This year, more than 50 local runners will come together on Friday, June 19 for the 10th annual "Run on the Roof." The run begins at 2 p.m. Friday and "runs" until 2 p.m., Saturday, June 20.
The event culminates with a party, as the public is invited to come and enjoy food and free games for the kids at the Family Fun Day, which will be held Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"We wanted it to be unique," said Kara Houck McCaffrey, Houck's sister, explaining the rooftop relays. "We're running to end child abuse and we have people running all night long."
McCaffrey is president of The Kids Trust Board.
She encourages folks to stop by the event or maybe just "honk" their car horn as they drive by to encourage the runners.
Her brother Gary was interested in construction and having a crane lift a treadmill to the roof was something he would enjoy seeing, McCaffrey said.
"Our official goal this year is $32,000; that's how much we're giving to agencies that help children," McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey has chilling statistics to show how much help is needed to protect children.
In the United States, more than four children die as a result of child abuse — every day, she said.
A case of child abuse is reported every 10 seconds on average in the United States, and survivors of child abuse are six times more likely to become abusive parents themselves.
Madden recalled the tumultuous days following Houck's passing, when the close-knit group of friends and family tried to find a way to raise the money needed to fulfill Houck's mission.
"Growing up, I was best friends with Gary," Madden said. "Originally, after that happened (Houck's passing), I was planning to run a marathon and the thought hit me one day that it would be neat to run a marathon to raise money for The Kids' Trust."
Taking it a step further, Madden thought running a marathon on a treadmill would be just the thing Gary would applaud.
"He had an adventuresome, creative mind," Madden said.
Initially, four friends were planning to run the treadmill marathon, but as the word spread, more people wanted to get involved, Madden said.
"We were a group of friends dealing with a lot of emotions, negative emotions, and we turned those emotions into something positive," Madden said. "Child abuse is very real and it's right here in central Pennsylvania and most people aren't aware of that. Anything we can do to contribute to ending that, we need to do. As people, it's our responsibility to do something. If you ask yourself 'what can I do,' well, you can run for 30 minutes, or you can donate and it will be given to agencies that help kids."
Initially, Madden was told his idea wouldn't even make $5,000 for the Trust, but that first year, they brought in $49,000.
"We get a lot of support from the public," Madden said. "We all work together to make it happen."
The Kids' Trust is a charitable fund aligned with The Foundation for Enhancing Communities. It is a perpetual fund and will always accept contributions, and will always seek to fulfill the mission statement, McCaffrey said.
"We're a non-profit that helps children of abuse grow up in a safe and happy environment," McCaffrey said. "We also want to raise awareness and prevent abuse."
The Kids Trust Board focuses their fund-raising on central Pennsylvania and as such, may give funding to agencies in York, Dauphin, Lancaster and Lebanon counties.
In the beginning years of the Trust, the financial goal was set at more modest amounts, McCaffrey said. But as the Trust becomes more well-known and more people want to help, setting the bar higher became the Trust's goal, McCaffrey said.
"There are some really cool things people (agencies for children) are doing, so it feels good to give out that kind of money," McCaffrey said.
Knowing how much her brother cared about this mission and being able to make it work are very important to a loving sister, McCaffrey said.
"It's a great way for us to remember him and honor him," McCaffrey said.
For more information, go to: www.thekidstrust.org or call (717) 236-5040.