Freeman News

Freeman 5K and Walk for Autism Awareness Join Forces

February 25, 2021

Team Registration Begins for Tropical Themed

Joplin, MO – The 14th Annual Walk for Autism Awareness and Freeman Family 5K are uniting for a joint approach to raising funds to support program development and scholarship assistance at Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism. The one-mile walk and 5K run will both take place on Saturday, April 24, at Leffen Center at 2808 S. Picher Ave. Leffen Center provides diagnostic, treatment and education services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

“We believe this combined effort is good for our community, good for our participants and good for our students who are on the autism spectrum,” said Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer Paula Baker while delivering a message to Autism Walk team members. “Thanks to you, families don’t have to drive hundreds of miles to receive an autism diagnosis – we have an autism diagnostic team right here in Joplin. Thanks to you, children on the autism spectrum are receiving life-changing therapy to help them lead their best lives. Thanks to you, Leffen Center students see a future filled with promise and accomplishment.”

Organizers announced a tropical theme during the registration kick-off event along with prizes as fundraising incentives.

“We can all agree that after a long cold winter, a luau-themed event sounds glorious!” exclaimed Ozark Center Chief Administrative Officer Vicky Mieseler. “This year’s event will include food trucks, an opportunity to purchase fun autism awareness items and free giveaways for the kids. In addition, there will be a vendor fair to provide families with information about Ozark Center services as well as other local community organizations services and supports.”

“Your support as teams or individual participants will help with program development and help fund our scholarship program for individuals who might not otherwise be able to afford these life-changing services,” said Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism Clinical Director Edie Spera. “Past walks also assisted several out-of-state enrollments each year.

The Freeman Family 5K originated as an effort to get employees exercising with co-workers and families. In the past, it has supported pediatric therapy, maternal-child and NICU services, as well as Bright Futures.



About Freeman Health System

Locally owned, not-for-profit and nationally recognized, Freeman Health System includes Freeman Hospital West, Freeman Hospital East, Freeman Neosho Hospital and Ozark Center – the area’s largest provider of behavioral health services – as well as two urgent care clinics, dozens of physician clinics and a variety of specialty services. In 2020, Freeman earned dozens of individual awards for medical excellence and patient safety from CareChex®, a quality rating system that helps consumers evaluate healthcare providers. U.S. News & World Report named Freeman Health System the Best Hospital in Southwest Missouri for 2020-2021. With more than 320 physicians on staff representing more than 80 specialties, Freeman provides cancer care, heart care, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, children’s services and women’s services. Additionally, Freeman is the only Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in a 70-mile radius. For more information, visit


About Ozark Center

Ozark Center is based in Joplin, Missouri and has been an entity of Freeman Health System since 1996. It has been providing comprehensive behavioral health services to children, adults and families since 1965 in an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from the Four States. Ozark Center continually looks for innovative ways to address the behavioral health needs of the community and promote awareness of behavioral health issues in an effort to eliminate the discrimination associated with it. For more information, visit or call 417.347.7600.