Justice McNeeley

The first poker run raised money to buy Justice McNeeley a motorized wheelchair when he was in kindergarten. Now, he’s the guest of honor in the charity event that bears his name, which every year helps more families who need help coping with a child’s illness or disability.

Justice McNeeley was the center of attention Saturday during an almost day-long ATV/UTV poker run, held in his name to raise money to pay medical expenses of needy Rim Country children.

The inaugural charity poker run was held in 2004 to raise the money needed to purchase an innovative wheelchair, called a Go-Bot, for Justice, then a Pine school kindergartner, who suffered from spinal muscular atrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy.

The money earned at the inaugural benefit paid for the power standup wheelchair designed to improve his mobility.

The success of that first fundraiser prompted organizers to set up the Justice McNeeley Foundation to raise more money for other needy children. Every year since, organizers have staged benefit poker runs annually in Pine including the 2018 event with a start/finish line at the Mi Familia restaurant on Beeline Highway.

Justice, now 19, made his traditional guest appearance greeting riders and mingling with old friends, some of whom attended the first-ever poker run. The post-race celebration included live music, horseshoes, raffles, auctions, cornhole and Texas hold ’em.

It turned into a feel-good afternoon that can only be enjoyed in small-town America.

Most importantly, all funds earned will help offset medical expenses of children whose parents and grandparents cannot afford to do so.

Recent foundation donations include $3,600 to purchase a trainer to help a disabled boy learn to walk; $5,500 to pay a surgery bill; $5,400 for dental braces; $2,400 to pay a child’s doctor bill; and more than $2,400 for specialized hearing aids.

Some mistakenly believe because the foundation is based in Pine, only families in that area receive assistance.

In truth, the foundation supports families from around Rim Country, including purchasing a specialized wheelchair to help a 2-year-old Payson boy learn to walk.

“We have helped kids with medical, dental and eye issues including surgery, back braces, prosthetics, extractions, braces, glasses and exams,” said McNeeley Foundation treasurer Patricia Lunsford.

While profits from Saturday’s benefit have not been finalized, foundation board member Cathy Smith estimates about $11,000 was earned prompting her to issue a heartfelt thank you.

“We can’t thank all of the people that participated enough; without all of you folks we wouldn’t be able to continue our work.”

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