WEST WARWICK — Thousands of yellow rubber duckies on Saturday painted the Pawtuxet River, drifting toward a finish line of pool noodles attached end-to-end as community members watched in anticipation. 

“Everyone’s been excited over the dumping of the ducks,” said Amanda Barney, associate vice president of development and communications at Thundermist, as the ducks floated slowly through the calm water below. “And we really love seeing the community all come together.”

Held to recognize 50 years since Thundermist Health Center’s founding, this weekend’s duck race and family fun day at Royal Mills Riverpoint also raised funds to benefit the nonprofit health center. 

“The money that we’re able to raise selling the ducks, we’re able to spend on programs and services that support needs in the community that we’ve identified,” Barney said of the otherwise free event.

Thundermist collected 4,500 rubber duckies in preparation for the race and, at around $1 each, sold every one of them. 

But while it was in part a fundraiser, Barney said, Saturday’s event was also an opportunity to bring the community together for a relaxing, fun day. 

Looking around at those gathered — at children with painted faces making sand art and enjoying pizza; at Thundermist employees dripping from head to toe after being soaked in the dunk tank; at members of the West Warwick Steelers playing yard games — Barney said the event this year “exceeded our expectations.”

“The turnout has really surpassed what we had imagined,” she continued.

Sponsored by Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, family-fun events like the one held in West Warwick Saturday have taken place throughout Thundermist’s 50th year in each of the communities it serves. 

The duck race event, in particular, over time has become a favorite among local families. Because of concerns over weather and attendance, however, there were a couple of years when the event wasn’t held. 

“But this year’s our 50th, so we decided to bring the ducks back, because everybody was asking for them,” Barney said, as around her kids peered out from beneath orange hat brims that resembled duck bills.

Nearby, a giant yellow duck waddled back and forth, stopping occasionally to pose for photos.

Founded 50 years ago in a one-room Woonsocket apartment, Thundermist Health Center has since drastically expanded its reach. 

“It was driven by a few dedicated individuals who really thought that everyone deserves access to healthcare,” Barney recounted the health center’s early years. 

Thundermist now serves some 50,000 patients per year out of its branches in Woonsocket, South Kingstown and West Warwick.

To celebrate all that the health center has accomplished since 1969, a gala has been scheduled for Oct. 10. 

“It’s really a chance for people who have worked at Thundermist, have been served by Thundermist, who are stakeholders, to come and celebrate our huge history,” Barney said of the gala, which will be held at the Roger Williams Botanical Center in Providence. 

The gala, Barney added, will be an opportunity to reminisce over Thundermist’s evolution over the last half of a century, and to celebrate the ways in which the organization has positively impacted people statewide.

“We are primary care providers,” Barney said, “but at the end of the day, we are rooted in what the needs of our community are, and our mission is to serve our community and provide the healthcare that they need.” 

Tickets for Thundermist’s 50th anniversary gala are available on its website, at thundermisthealth.org.

kgravelle@ricentral.com

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