By Sabrina Bates
More than a decade ago a group of S.A.L.s came together for the purpose of offering a fun event to help a family in need. That vision was part of one designed by the group’s fallen brother and former Weakley County Press Sports Editor Joey Guest. A couple of years after the inaugural poker run, Guest was killed in a motorcycle accident in Martin. The event that brings together people from across Northwest Tennessee and beyond has been named in his honor for the past nine years — the Joey Guest Poker Run — and hosted by his brothers of the S.A.L. squadron of the American Legion Post #55 in Martin.
As the annual event continues to grow, the impact of it has reached far and wide. It takes months of planning, a plethora of volunteers and numerous sponsors. And as is custom, the funds raised remain a secret until the evening the S.A.L.s choose to present a check to the recipient.
This year’s 9th annual Joey Guest Poker Run and 6th annual 5K Blackout Run was held at the Martin Legion post Aug. 23-24. The two-day affair featured food, entertainment and thousands of dollars worth of silent and live auction items. This year’s largest auction item was a G3 fishing boat and trailer donated by Johnnie Garrett of Union City Marine.
The brothers had chosen Adam Harrison of Union City as their designated honoree. Adam is an eight-year-old who was diagnosed with autism and PANDAS as a toddler. Some of his treatments were not covered by conventional medical insurance. He received a Joey Guest Poker Run event T-shirt that he wore daily for more than a week after the fundraiser.
As S.A.L. Commander Kenny Park before the check presentation praised the team of volunteers who helped make the two-day event a success, a sweet, gentle Adam could be heard saying “thank you” in the dining hall of the Legion Tuesday evening.
After recognizing the volunteers, Park offered a special tribute to the person he described as the “rock” in the room who helps make the event possible each year. Park said she is at every meeting and works constantly behind the scenes helping for the annual event. Out of the tragedy of losing her son Joey, Shelia Walker Thompson, said she has gained a whole new family that stands by them every step of the way.
Park thanked Thompson for sharing Guest’s memory. The event, in its nine years, has raised $118,000 for families in Weakley and Obion counties.
“Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many,” Park read from an appreciation plaque presented to a teary-eyed Thompson Tuesday evening.
As Adam and his family members headed to the front of the dining hall for the check presentation, volunteers in the room offered a drum roll in preparation of seeing the funds raised.
A record-breaking total of $35,400 from the event was given to Adam and his family from the 9th annual S.A.L. Joey Guest Poker Run, a day prior to Adam turning eight years old.
The donation is a result of contributions by more than 300 individuals and businesses across Northwest Tennessee and beyond.
Adam’s mother Gina offered appreciation as she choked back a few tears of overwhelmed gratitude.
Gina announced they were grateful to even be considered as a recipient, and didn’t expect to even be chosen. An appreciative family lined up for a group photo with the volunteers behind the scenes on hand for the check presentation. Park noted the event would not have been possible without the tireless work put in by the volunteers who show up each year and work, not for the praise and recognition, but because of the kindness in their hearts.
More information about the annual event and updates for future events can be found on The Ninth Annual Joey Guest Poker Run Facebook page.