Courthouse run goes big in Freed to Run 2.0

Courthouse run goes big in Freed to Run 2.0
Mike Freed runs along the Ortega River drawbridge.

Jacksonville attorney Mike Freed’s passion for helping others is contagious. Last year, Freed launched Freed to Run, six marathons in six days from the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee to the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville.

After years of doing pro bono work with the nonprofit Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, he decided to create his own fundraising event to help the organization and raised $70,000 in the inaugural Freed to Run point-to-point relay race.

Freed covered at least 26 miles each day for a total of 157 miles. He ran from courthouse to courthouse along US-90, like circuit court judges used to do by horse.

“Officially I was the only runner, but I was surprised by some supporters and even some perfect strangers who joined in for fun and encouragement and ran some miles with me,” Freed said.

Lauren Purdy ran in the Chicago Marathon several years ago to support the American Cancer Society.

Lauren Purdy ran in the Chicago Marathon several years
ago to support the American Cancer Society.

Freed and his wife, Crystal, aren’t new to philanthropy. Independently and collectively, they have been working to raise money and awareness for causes. In 2016, Crystal hosted a Bollywood-themed benefit ball for her friends, Sarah Symons and John Berger, to add a third floor to their shelter in Jalpaiguri, India, that serves survivors of human trafficking. Her success inspired Mike to create Freed to Run in 2017.

This year at least 17 relay teams will join Mike in Freed to Run 2.0, Dec. 2-7, in an effort to raise $180,000. Each team is trying to raise $10,000.

With a commitment from Baptist Health Foundation to match by 125 percent the funds the relay teams raise, the event is seeking to raise $405,000 for the JALA Endowment for the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership (NFMLP). Baptist Health Foundation has challenged Freed to raise $1 million over the next five years.

“I am not a runner, but I wanted to support Mike and, most importantly, spread awareness and raise funds for an important cause,” said Michelle Barnett, Jacksonville Bar Association relay team member. “Too many people need representation and even a simple question answered, but the don’t have the resources to get help. Legal Aid provides a tremendous resource and we are proud to support this cause.”

Including the Foundation’s match, Freed to Run has an ultimate fundraising goal of $2.25 million for the JALA Endowment. Interest from the endowment will pay for a lawyer’s salary to provide legal services for low-income, disadvantaged people and families facing issues related to medical problems, Freed said.

“Marks Gray has a longstanding relationship with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid,” said Shannon Peabody, who is volunteering as marketing director for this year’s run, in addition to leading the Marks Gray law firm’s relay team.

“Freed to Run 2.0 combines physical fitness and charitable giving to raise funds for the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership – a perfect union for a great cause.” Peabody will be running the relay with Giselle Carson, who is captain of the Marks Gray relay team.

Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership (NFMLP) is part of a nationwide network of projects in which professionals from the medical and legal communities combine resources to produce outcomes for low-income and vulnerable patients (children and adults) that positively impact their health and ability to thrive. Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) supports NFMLP by providing high quality legal assistance to low-income and special-needs groups.

“Akerman law firm is dedicated to assisting the less fortunate in the communities in which we live and work,” said Katie Fackler, captain of the firm’s relay team with John MacDonald, co-captain.

“Running is one of my greatest loves, so I feel exceptionally lucky to have the opportunity to use it for a higher purpose,” she said.

2015 Chicago marathon runners Allison Stocker, Jamie Joseph, Lydia McRae and Katie Fackler

2015 Chicago marathon runners Allison Stocker,
Jamie Joseph, Lydia McRae and Katie Fackler

“The goal is to have a lawyer available 24/7 to help the medical community improve people’s lives,” Freed said. “It is a good idea, but it is not fully funded. This marathon works to solve a critical social service problem. A pediatric patient may have asthma. The hospital can treat asthma but can’t solve the living conditions that are causing the health problems, but lawyers can help with that landlord issue,” he said.

Lawyers can also help with the medical benefits process and many other problems to reduce the need for medical attention.

“A modest amount of legal help can make a big difference and create a positive outcome for everyone,” Freed said. “Most lawyers practice on the business, criminal, corporate side; not as many are available to address the civil side, especially for indigent people.”

“My husband, Asghar, and I are supporters of Freed to Run because the need for donations is particularly dire in Florida given that the state does not allocate funds for civil legal aid,” Sabeen Perwaiz said. Asghar Syed joins Gunster law firm members Rachel Mills, Mike Freed and his assistant, Donna McGavic, in planning Freed to Run 2.0.

“Women’s Giving Alliance wanted to participate in Freed to Run to show our support for JALA and NFMLP,” said Lauren Purdy, who works for Gunster. She and Sabeen Perwaiz are both members of the Women’s Giving Alliance, which funds, educates and advocates for Jacksonville women and girls to strengthen families, communities and the future.

“The missions of JALA and NFMLP align very closely with WGA’s mission, in particular our current focus of breaking the cycle of female poverty,” Purdy said.

“There are so many great, philanthropic lawyers and law firms and other nonprofits in Jacksonville. Community First Credit Union saw this as a great opportunity as well,” Freed said. “I think the fact that the event is a cost-free, fun opportunity to run across the state that brings a 125 percent match captivated their interest.”

Freed graduated from Jacksonville University, went to Georgetown law school, and practiced law in D.C. until he and his family moved to Jacksonville in 1995.

“I enjoyed D.C., but it is a bit of a rat race,” he said. After the birth of their first child, Crystal and he thought the opportunity to raise a family and work in Jacksonville was more appealing.

Sabeen Perwaiz and Asghar Syed in a 2018 Color Me Rad 5K race

Sabeen Perwaiz and Asghar Syed in a 2018 Color Me Rad 5K race

Freed attributes his passion about social issues to Crystal’s influence. She left her job as a commercial litigator in 20018. Since then she’s focused her career as a human rights lawyer advocating for victims of human trafficking in her own firm, The Freed Firm. 

Crystal Freed, The Freed Firm; Dennis Harrison, Jim Kowalski and Kathy Para, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid; Circuit Judge Hugh A. Carithers; and Deno Hicks, Southern Strategy Group of Jacksonville, are also part of the working group that is producing Freed to Run 2.0.

To date, other relay teams are Abel Bean Law; Black Girls Run!; Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Board of Directors; Community First Credit Union; Forbes, Thompson & Gilham Wealth Management Group; Jacksonville Area Legal Aid – St. Johns County and Clay County; Jacksonville Bar Association; F3 Jacksonville; Office of the State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit; Shutts & Bowen; Fisher, Tousey, Leas & Ball Attorneys at Law; Florida Public Defenders – PDO 4th Circuit; and Jacksonville University.

Sponsors of Freed to Run 2.0 include Gunster law firm, The Freed Firm, Elite Parking Services, Jacksonville Bar Association, 1st Place Sports, Wahby Financial Services, UF Health and JTC Running.

The community is invited to help the relay teams finish by running a 5K to the finish line – from the Jacksonville Farmers Market to the Duval County Courthouse on Friday, Dec. 7. The run begins at 3:15 p.m.

All funds raised will directly to benefit JALA’s endowment. To learn more about Freed to Run 2.0, visit jaxlegalaid.org/freedtorun/.


By Karen J. Rieley
Resident Community News

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