Kids Gran Fondo raises money for children with life-threatening illnesses

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It’s a rare day when 2-year-old Vaughn Perez gets to go to the park.

Even the simplest venture outside his Santa Rosa home involves vigilance, and lots of hand sanitizer, on the part of his parents Amanda and Velmer Perez. They must stand guard against even the simplest gesture like a high-five, which can put the gregarious boy at risk of catching a virus that his immune system, and the donated heart in his body, may not be able to withstand.

Sunday, they made an exception.

Vaughn and his twin brother, Vicente, bounced, danced and waved at families crossing the finish line at the seventh annual Sonoma County Kids Gran Fondo bicycle ride at Lucchesi Park in Petaluma. About 200 bike and scooter riders and their jogging parents took part in the charitable event, which raises money for children with serious illnesses.

Vaughn Perez and Petaluma’s Callie Jacobs, 9, were this year’s honorees.

“We try to protect him as much as possible,” said Vaughn’s mother, Amanda Perez. “It takes a village.”

The Kids Gran Fondo grew out of former professional cyclist and Petaluma High graduate Steven Cozza’s work raising money for children suffering from life-threatening illnesses. This year, the Petaluma Active 20-30 Club took the helm of the event. Organizers select children each year to be their “heroes” and their families recipients of event proceeds.

Club member Chase Kranich estimates they will have raised between $8,000 and $10,000 to split between the families. Participants chose 1-mile, 4-mile and 7-mile routes.

“What I like is that it’s kids supporting kids,” Kranich said.

The ride is becoming a tradition for some families, including the Sniders of Petaluma.

This year, the training wheels were off Veronica Snider’s bike because the 6-year-old has since learned how to balance and pedal. She rode while her brother Duke, 4, scooted along on a balance bike. Their mother, Nicole Snider, jogged along for the 1-mile route.

It’s a chance to get the kids involved in a good cause and get some exercise while at it, Snider  said.

“How was it? What was the best part?” Snider asked her son after they reached the finish line and headed to the playground.

“Riding!” Duke said.

At a circle of booths with games, Callie Jacobs played an oversized checkers board with a volunteer.

At just 4 months old, Callie was diagnosed with hereditary pancreatitis and an undetermined genetic disorder, her mother Kari Jacobs said. Callie has been in and out of the hospital for most of her life, and they’ve had to learn to infuse their lives with joy despite the burden of hospital stays and uncertainty about her diagnosis.

Like the Perez family, the Jacobses have transformed their lives to care for their children and advocate for their care as they face formidable health challenges.

“It’s such a blessing,” Kari Jacobs said of the support. “The hardest part for us is it’s not going to end. But we have a great core group of friends and a strong family.”

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