BENNINGTON -- United Counseling Service staff, clients and members of the community took off from Dewey St. on Saturday and wrapped around the sidewalks of Bennington for the fifth-annual "Go the Distance" 5k.

After pre registration of 36 individuals, a total of 78 runners and walkers pledged a donation for the race benefit. UCS staff were able to participate at a discounted rate. Only about a dozen participated in the first year of the event, but race organizers said participation has grown consistently every year since.

"We have a good number: We don't want too many more than that," said Community Rehabilitation and Treatment director at UCS, Victor Martini. "We want everyone to just come out and have a good time; Not more than we can accommodate."

The annual race stemmed out of a need for funding peer support programs at UCS in 2010, when state funding for the program ceased. Peer services for psychological issues are conducted by volunteers who can relate to the UCS clients.

"Peer services are very important and it's hard to fund them," Martini said. "This money goes toward organizing them, for food or materials. At some point we want to pay our peers for providing these services. So, long term we are hoping to have some very steady and reliable fundraising and this is part of it."

Donations and proceeds from the event also go toward training and education of peer group leaders. Race organizer and UCS manager JoAnne Larsen said the most successful peer service is one offered for bipolar disorder depression.

After the first year, UCS connected with the Battenkill Valley Runners to help restructure and increase participation in the event.

"Since then we've done very well," Larsen said. "The advisory committee loved the idea. The agency was promoting a marathon at that time. A lot of our folks can't really participate, but they can walk a 5k. It's gotten bigger and better and more organized."

This year, the 5k was combined with UCS's annual Family Fun Day. Included in the event's activities was facepainting, food, tie dyeing, a Zumba warm-up let by local Zumba instructor Andrea Malinowski and a separate children's run.

For more about UCS's future events or services, visit http://www.ucsvt.org/.

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg