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LI March of Dimes walk draws thousands to Jones Beach

Thousands of Long Islanders participated in the March

Thousands of Long Islanders participated in the March of Dimes' annual March for Babies at Jones Beach in Wantagh on Sunday, May 1, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

Despite cold and rainy weather, thousands of Long Islanders participated in a four-mile walk Sunday morning in hopes of bringing awareness to the health concerns of women and children.

The Jones Beach fundraiser for the March of Dimes Long Island Division was one of many being held across America over the weekend.

Participants, many carrying umbrellas, headed out onto the boardwalk along the Atlantic Ocean in honor of mothers and their children, many of whom were born prematurely or have died. That was the case three years ago when Jennifer Maguire, 44, of Bellmore, gave birth to her daughter, Maeve.

Being a first-time mother was one of the happiest times of her life — until her daughter died 15 months later. Maguire said her daughter was born with microcephaly, a birth defect in which the brain is smaller than expected; Maeve’s brain never developed past 21 weeks.

On Sunday, Maguire and about 60 friends wore bracelets and T-shirts featuring the infant’s face.

Joanne Jones, executive director of the March of Dimes Long Island Division, said cold weather and rain caused an expected crowd of 5,000 to dwindle to near 3,000.

As of Sunday afternoon, the organization raised $500,000, half of what it had hoped. Still, organizers remained optimistic as participants started their walk.

“I think we’ll get there or get close,” Jones predicted.

She said one in 10 babies in the United States is born prematurely, and that the donated funds will go toward research.

“Our mission is to prevent premature babies,” she said.

Overall, she added, the national organization — based in White Plains — is spending $75 million to analyze why pregnant women go into labor early.

“I’m here in honor of all the babies and parents who have lost their children,” said Tracy Behar, 34, a Massapequa mom who gave birth to a two-months-premature son seven years ago.

Brooklyn resident Steven Mardy drove up with several of his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers to walk and perform community service.

“That’s what we’re all about,” said Mardy, 32.

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