Thomasville locals volunteer at annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 8:04 PM EST
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THOMASVILLE, Ga. (WCTV) - The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has a mythical quality to it.

The amazing animals pull their mushers through hundreds of miles of Alaska terrain. The temperatures, which are nearly as daunting, are many times well below zero.

This year’s race started Sunday in Willow, about 80 miles northwest of Anchorage.

Everything about this race is unlike anything most folks in the Big Bend and South Georgia are used to, but that doesn’t stop members of Thomasville First Baptist Church from braving the elements year after year.

Their week-long stay begins at the Iditarod, but it’s the work they do afterwards that literally warms hearts.

The Tallahassee Airport was the starting line for a group of Thomasville friends who were vaccinated and off to Alaska.

“When I say I’m going to work for the Iditarod, there’s this blank look on their face,” said Deb Wentworth, a five-time volunteer with the race. “We go the day before the race and set up fencing, musher’s pits, we prepare for the dogs to come into the areas.”

Michael Raybon, another volunteer, said, “It’s kind of like Christmas morning in a way.”

Raybon is another five-time volunteer. He wears a badge that proves he’s trained to actually handle the dogs. Raybon says he meets people from all over the world.

“It’s amazing. In a matter of moments, you can have a conversation with a person from Asia, and one from Finland or any other of the mushing communities or a Native American”.

The Iditarod certainly has the cool factor, but these southerners have more important work to do.

“Being homeless is terrible. Being homeless in Alaska takes it to another level,” Raybon said.

The volunteers have learned over the years that the bitter cold can literally freeze a person. who has no protection from it.

“It’s almost like you’re trapped. Literally, trapped,” Raybon explained.

A good amount of their time is spent volunteering at a shelter called the Hope Center in Anchorage.

They’ll help feed hundreds a day and even wash their clothes, anything to let them know someone cares.

“It’s humbling for me, because I get to see people truly in need. They’re hungry for someone to be kind, someone to be generous to them,” said Wenworth.

Jason Stanley, a first-time volunteer, couldn’t say no to the opportunity.

“The way that I try to live my life is that if I can be useful and be apart of something to make someone’s life better, then I’m going to say yes,” Stanley said.

Stanley is the latest to embark on a mission. they’ll all likely do again. hopeful one day ... a finish line is in sight.

An organization called GraceWorks Alaska facilitates this trip and works with volunteers and church teams from all over.

The group from the church has participated for about a decade.

Besides volunteering at the Iditarod and the Hope Center, they also help with an after-school outreach program with kids in the Anchorage area.

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