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Helen’s Hugs raises money for special needs children: Local non-profit hosts 5K, donates proceeds to equestrian therapy program

Justin Lee Campbell/News Editor

The Corontzes family hosted the annual Helen’s Hugs 5K run/walk Sunday to raise money for Happy Hooves, an equestrian therapy program for special needs children in Easley. Left to right: George, Lesa, Christine, Lex, Adelyn and Matt

One of Christine Corontzes’ favorite memories of her late sister Helen is sharing clothes.
“She and I had similar tastes, so we would get in arguments over who could borrow whose shirt,” Christine said. But their arguments never lasted more than an hour. 
“One of us would always go and apologize,” Christine said, laughing. “We had one of the best relationships.”
Christine and the Corontzes family hosted a 5K run/walk Sunday afternoon to raise funds for Helen’s Hugs, a non-profit named after one of Helen’s most memorable traits.
“She hugged everybody,” Helen’s uncle Ted Corontzes said. “If anybody was down, she always went out of her way to include everybody … and that showed through her hugs.”
In March of 2006, Helen lost her life in a tragic car accident. Her family created Helen’s Hugs to honor her and her legacy. 
More than 50 volunteers showed up at The Park at Valley Walk behind The Esso Club to help raise funds for the program Happy Hooves at Eden Farms near Easley. Happy Hooves offers scholarships for equestrian (or horseback riding) therapy to special needs children. The idea originated from Helen’s love of horses. 
At the park’s entrance, people were greeted by Buck, a Golden Retriever owned by Ann Nimmer, a long-time friend of the Corontzes family.
“Buck does very well with the public. He loves kids,” said Nimmer, a hunting guide who works in the lower part of the state. “So he’s just been sitting right here as a welcoming for people.”
To the left of the entrance were two bouncy castles, one blue and red and one covered by Disney princesses. Past the castles stood Tonka, Helen’s dark brown horse with white spots near his tail and on his nose. Children and their parents got to pet the 24-year-old Tonka and pose with him for pictures.
“Tonka’s still showing up,” said George Corontzes, Helen’s dad. “That’s the kids’ favorite part.”
The event also had a bake sale, raffle and a silent auction, which included a Tiger print signed by Coach Swinney and George’s own pottery.
While friends, family and strangers enjoyed the festivities, realtor, photographer and close friend of the Corontzes family Lisa Richardson captured the events.
“My favorite thing to do is take the photographs,” Richardson said. “After today, there’ll be so many great pictures, and what we love most is the smiles.”
Lesa Corontzes, Helen’s mother, said her favorite part is seeing all of Helen’s friends.
“I’m very pleased with everybody and the support and the 
little ones here having a ball,” Lesa said. “I [couldn’t] be happier.”
Helen’s family and friends showed much admiration for her.
“She was just such a kind soul, a kind person,” said Matt Corontzes, Helen’s brother. Matt, a homebuilder in Clemson, looked up to Helen. “She was a friend to me. She told me right from wrong. She was a great big sister.”
Christine, who finished the 5K in just under 24 minutes, touted her sister’s character. “She was always doing something for someone else,” Christine said. “She was so genuine, and she never backed down on anything she believed in just to fit in with anybody or to make anyone like her.”
Photographer Richardson talked about Helen’s legacy. “She’s brought the community together,” Richardson said with her camera around her neck. Richardson recounted how Helen’s parents were at the park Thursday night when it started to rain. After George and Lesa left, a rainbow appeared over 
the neighborhood.
“She’s definitely here,” Richardson said. 
Even student Hannah Watkins, who didn’t know much about Helen before the race, felt Helen’s presence.
“I just love that [the race] is something bigger than myself,” said Watkins, a junior food science major. “And I was feeling that as I was running, and now I actually know it’s for Helen.”
Helen’s pull extends across state lines as well.
Naomi Flannigan, a project manager from Huntsville, Alabama, drove to the 5K from Georgia, where she had completed another race Saturday.
“I decided that it’d be a cool idea to run a race … in each one of the 50 states,” Flannigan said. “I found [Helen’s Hugs] through a website that tells you what races are close together … It was for a good cause and I like the idea of the equestrian therapy center.” Flannigan has also raced in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and Utah. One can only picture Helen hugging Flannigan enthusiastically after learning about her plans to criss-cross the nation running.
Though Helen might have encouraged her to go on horseback.
Christine has a second favorite memory in addition to the clothes’ one.
“One of my favorite memories was going out to the barn with her when she would have to do the feeding of the horses,” Christine said. 
That’s probably one of Tonka’s favorite memories as well.

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