Andy Armstrong’s Eden Autism legacy lives on through the annual 5K

To celebrate the 20th annual Eden Autism 5K & Fun Run/Walk, we’re honoring the people who helped turn this race into Eden’s biggest annual fundraiser!

Andrew (Andy) Armstrong, former Eden Autism Director of Development, retired nearly a decade ago, but he still feels a strong connection to the individuals Eden supports.

Andy Armstrong running the 2016 Eden Autism 5K

“Having 30-plus years at Eden, it’s always going to be a really important part of my life,” he said. “Although it has been eight years since I retired, I still feel part of it. Watching the kids grow into adults, and staying in touch through newsletters and emails, it’s kind of like watching my family continue to thrive and grow. There is a real connection for me even though it has been all these years since I’ve been directly involved.”

Andy had a big impact on Eden — an impact that lives on through the annual fundraising events that began during his tenure. Among other events, he helped launch the Eden Autism 5K in 2004 with Jerry Fennelly. Andy was initially hesitant to launch another fundraising event, but Jerry’s track record of creating successful 5Ks for nonprofits convinced Andy to plan a race for Eden.

The first year, they didn’t know if 50 or 500 people would show up. “We were nervous,” said Andy. “But as runners started to arrive and check in, we got increasingly excited.” That first race surpassed their expectations — attracting over 500 runners and walkers and raising over $42,000.

Andy had two ways to measure the success of fundraising events — how much money was raised and how much fun people had at the event. Not only did they hit an impressive fundraising goal for an inaugural race, but the runners and walkers were looking forward to coming back the following year.

Andy worked with the race committee to build upon the success of the first race. The 5K kept growing, attracting more runners and surpassing fundraising goals. Now, more than 1,000 runners and walkers attend, annually raising $200,000. For Andy, it has been amazing to watch the race grow. “I’m thrilled with the success for Eden,” he said. “The race itself has obviously gained a following. It’s just a tribute to the hard work that the committee puts in to make it something that people want to participate in and sponsors want to support.”

Andy was involved in every aspect of the event — including the race itself! After he helped with set up and checked in the runners, Andy would jump in the start line to run the 5K.

“I wanted to have the experience as one of the participants, to know what things could be improved — how were the water stations, how were the stopwatches, things like that,” he said. After running the race, he returned to help his fellow runners enjoy the rest of their time at the fundraiser.

“Eden is fortunate that volunteers from the greater-Princeton area have played key roles in initiating many of our fundraising events, and Andy Armstrong was always right there to support their enthusiasm,” said Melinda McAleer, Eden Autism’s Chief Development Officer. “The pairing of Jerry Fennelly’s energy with Andy’s quiet ways resulted in what has become Eden’s most profitable event. Andy’s imprint remains on much of what we do to raise funds for Eden’s programs today.”