Many years ago, Justin Niekamp raised money for the March of Dimes by selling newspapers.
On Sunday, Niekamp and his family joined hundreds of other families and companies to raise money for the March of Dimes by walking in one of the March for Babies events held throughout the Chicago area.
The money raised will help fund important research and programs that help babies begin healthy lives, according to the March for Dimes. That includes the development of surfactant and nitric oxide therapies that save the lives of many premature babies, said March of Dimes Community Director Amy Beck.
Niekamp, a Pingree Grove resident, was part of the 5K walk at Busse Woods in Elk Grove Village. He was part of "Nathan's Team," which included the team's namesake, Niekamp's 6-year-old son, Nathan.
Nathan was born premature and underwent heart surgery when he was just four days old, said Nathan's mother, Jennifer Niekamp. The family credits organizations like the March of Dimes for Nathan's survival.
"The advancements (that were made) for his procedure alone are huge," Justin Niekamp said. "A lot of those organizations like the March of Dimes are a catalyst for those leading researches. That's why we wanted to make sure that we were a part of it today."
Jennifer said the team raised more than $2,000.
"We're hiking for him and others who were born sick or premature," she said.
In addition, Nathan's aunt, Winfield resident Vanessa Hanstad, has involved local businesses in making donations.
"I was fortunate," she said. "My babies were actually overdue and healthy and there were no challenges early on. Nathan had a tough time in the beginning, and I would do anything for him. It's a great cause."
Many of those walking the 3.2-mile distance were pushing strollers, including Ashley Kropke, who came all the way from Marengo with her son Lucas, 2. Her team raised $1,095.
As of last Thursday, Beck said 650 people had registered for the event in Elk Grove Village and she expected more than 1,000 to participate. In addition, March for Babies walks were held in Libertyville, St. Charles, Naperville and Crystal Lake.
Among the groups participating in the Elk Grove event was "Chris's Team," led by Dominick and Gina Iovino of Arlington Heights.
The team was named in memory of the couple's son, Christopher, who was born at 21 weeks and did not survive. Gina Iovino said the couple has been involved in the event since 2005. This year, they raised more than $2,000, and each year, they've raised between $2,000 and $3,000 each year.
When asked about what the March of Dimes means to them, Dominick said, "To us it means, hopefully, putting an end to premature birth, period."
"So that no else has to lose a child," Gina said.