ST. JOSEPH — Students from Lake Michigan Catholic School in St. Joseph provided a lesson in caring Monday.

Around 150 students participated in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Monday in St. Joseph, with runners and walkers following a route from the Howard Bandshell, along Lake Bluff Park and ending at the Whirlpool Fountain. They were joined by other community members and Torch Run team members from across the state, who had an escort from local police and sheriff’s deputies.

Lovey Howell, the Berrien County coordinator, said this is the third year that Lake Michigan Catholic students took part, with students from grades 5 to 12 participating, the largest group to attend. Michigan Department of Corrections Supervisor Amber Glending was the engine to get the entire school involved and to push the fundraising by the school.

Together the LMC Lakers raised $1,019. Overall, $2,300 was raised in Area 17. The goal was $750.

Michigan State Police Lt. Melinda Logan, one of the organizers of the run, said she was told by the traveling running team that this was the largest turnout they had seen.

Bailey Siglow, a Lake Michigan Catholic senior, had the honor of carrying the torch at the beginning of the run. She is a member of the school’s cross country and track teams.

Kaleb Bishop, an LMC sixth-grader, proudly carried the torch with the walkers as they neared the finish line.

“I felt like doing something for the community,” Kaleb said. He also said he hoped that seeing all the support would make people with disabilities feel better.

Megan Manafo and her daughter, Gia, brought along their Portuguese water dog, Valentino, a service dog, on the walk.

This was one of 44 runs scheduled statewide this week, and the only one in Southwest Michigan. The events raise money for families that can’t afford to participate in Special Olympics. This was the fourth year the Torch Run has taken place in St. Joseph.

Brian Smit, chief of the Benton Township police, his wife, Amber, and their son, Dominic, took part in the run.

Brian Smit said they have supported the effort every year “and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Blake Bitner, a Michigan State Police officer with the Tri-City post and a team captain, said the St. Joseph participation was double what it was last year.

Bitner and his teammates will be taking part in 11 runs this week. This is his fifth year with the Torch Run.

He said it is amazing to attend the Special Olympics games and to see the results of the hard work to allow more athletes to compete.

Along with the local Torch Run events, runners this week join the Central Route, a 750-mile non-stop relay run from Copper Harbor in the tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Belle Isle in Detroit. The relay run consists of three teams; Fraternal Order of Police, Michigan Department of Corrections, and Michigan State Police. Each team provides six runners who each run five miles at a time, averaging eight-minute miles.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics is the largest grassroots fundraiser and public awareness campaign for Special Olympics in the world. In the past 34 years, the run has raised more than $300 million for Special Olympics athletes. Around $1.7 million is raised annually in Michigan.

Contact:, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak