A local Tulsa teen organized the first annual Orphan Run Oklahoma, which took place Saturday morning.
The event began at 7:30 a.m. and featured a five-kilometer run and a one-mile fun run.
It began at the Church at Battle Creek in the 3000 block of North Aspen Avenue in Broken Arrow.
14-year-old Matthew Benjamin arranged the event to raise money to raise awareness of some 210 million international orphans, as well as local adoption and foster-parenting options.
Matthew had participated in a two-week mission trip to Mabaale, Uganda, in 2010 and came home completely changed with a passion to do something to help orphans.
During the mission trip, Matthew learned that the Ugandan orphans were sleeping alone on a dirt floor in a church. They didn't have parents, a home, or anybody to care for them. Many of them were HIV-positive, and Matthew said all of them were outcasts in their community.
According to UNICEF, there are at least 2700 children living with HIV in Uganda, 600 of which were infected during childbirth.
Matthew got to know some of the Ugandan orphans by playing soccer and hanging out with them.
"The mission trip wrecked me," Matthew told KTUL.com. "It wrecked me to see my friends not have a life, a home, or anyone to love them."
Uganda is an east African country that gained independence from Great Britain in 1962. It is one of the world's poorest countries.
Upon Matthew's return to the United States, he felt compelled to build them a home. This home was going to cost $20,000.
At age 13, Matthew ended up running 364 miles in training and raised over $31,000. The money was used to build, furnish, and maintain an orphanage in Mabaale.
The purpose of today's 5K and fun run was, Matthew said, "...to raise funds to build more orphanages in Uganda and to promote foster care here in Oklahoma with the One-One-One Project."
Matthew described the 111 Project as a program in which churches can pledge at least one family in their congregation to be foster parents.
According to the 111 Project, there were 8308 children who were in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) as of January 1st.
Matthew hopes that as the 111 Project continues, there will be no need for the Laura Dester Emergency Children's Shelter, the first place children go after being picked up by OKDHS.
"Today was awesome," Matthew said. "We had over a thousand runners."
Orphan Run Oklahoma raised over $100,000 on Saturday.
Kelli Portman, a friend of Matthew and the Benjamin family, told KTUL.com, "This is such a phenomenal event, and for someone his age to be organizing it is amazing."
Matthew Benjamin encourages people who were unable to participate in Saturday's run still to donate at www.orphanrunok.com or to mail a check payable to "National Christian Foundation" to 11063D South Memorial Drive #140, Tulsa, OK 74133-7366.
Matthew will return to the orphanage in Mabaale at the end of June to attend its official ribbon-cutting ceremony.
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