Hitting the Trail for a Good Cause
Appalachian hike will benefit home for children with DD
By Holly Crawford
IN ABOUT SIX MONTHS JEFF ALT, MS, SLP-CFY, WILL JUMP into his career as a speech-language pathologist working in the acute rehabilitation setting. But first the December graduate of Miami University of Ohio, in Oxford, will embark on a five-month trek to benefit people with developmental disabilities (DD).
While Alt will be among thousands of hikers who set out to walk the 2,144-mile Appalachian Trail this spring, he will be the only one whose steps are worth thousands of dollars to the Sunshine Children's Home in Maumee, Ohio. The facility is home to 80 children and adults with DD, including Alt's brother, Aaron, who has cerebral palsy.
"I am devoting this hike to my brother, since he can never go for a jog or a hike like this," noted Alt, who is a contingent therapist at Mercy Hospital in Monroe, MI, and Sundance Rehabilitation in Southern Michigan.
For the past 10 years, Aaron has been a resident of the children's home, which relies heavily on donations for equipment and devices.
"They take care of their residents well," Jeff Alt said. "We are not a wealthy family, so this is my way of giving something back to the home."
"What Jeff is doing is a great blessing," said Douglas Siebenaler, director of development for Sunshine Inc. of Northwest Ohio. He said Alt's efforts will benefit as many as 600 families in Northwest Ohio because the funds also will go toward two other service programs provided by the nonprofit organization.
Every dollar Alt raises will be placed in a restricted account for the sole purpose of purchasing equipment such as wheelchairs and talking boards. None will be used for administrative costs.
"Our purpose is to enhance the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families," Siebenaler said. "This equipment helps them to move ahead in life and have opportunities. We view that as very important."
Alt hopes to raise a total of $10,000 for the purchase of adaptive equipment for the Sunshine Home.
He has acquired close to 100 sponsors to date and has raised more than $6,000 since he began fundraising in August. In addition to monetary contributions, sponsors have donated hiking gear and other equipment.
Each day Alt spends a minimum of four hours working in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, to achieve the remainder of his goal. "I've been putting myself in front of people who want to give back to their community," he said.
Alt solicits funding by phone and at speaking engagements with service organizations and civic groups. The Miami University student population contributed $2,300 to the effort. The National Student Speech Language Hearing Association raised $380 of that total by sponsoring a campus pizza drive.
Alt will start his hike on March 1 carrying only a backpack and tent. During his journey from Springer Mountain, GA, to Katahdin, Maine, Alt will update the Sunshine Home, his sponsors and other supporters of his progress. One sponsor donated a cellular phone so that Alt will have a constant source of communication on the hike.
He also plans to publish a newsletter for his sponsors and supporters periodically throughout the trip. Alt will ship rolls of film and progress reports home to an aunt, who will produce and distribute the newsletter.
The newsletter will document financial achievements and recognize contributors.
Although he is paying for postage, phone calls and other expenses out of his own savings, Alt is not accepting contributions for personal expenditures incurred during the trip. He has asked that all monetary gifts be directed to the Sunshine Home. The donations are tax-exempt.
The trip will be a team effort for Alt's family. His mother and stepfather will mail packages of dehydrated food, vitamins and other supplies to him at designated points along the trip; his father and stepmother will handle his finances and media correspondence while he is away; and his sister will update his web page. His stepfather also is mapping out his route.
The Appalachian Trail is the longest and narrowest trail in the country.
To stay on pace, Alt must walk 18 to 25 miles a day, carrying 35 to 50 pounds of weight on his back.
The average hiker loses 15 to 20 pounds on the trail, so Alt is attempting to gain 10 pounds before his departure. "You can't consume enough to replace what you burn," he said.
However, the rigorous training required to prepare for the hike is preventing him from gaining any weight. To simulate trail conditions, Alt wears a 50-pound backpack during his cardiovascular training.
He said the Appalachian Trail is the best-marked trail in the world, and it is virtually impossible to get lost.
"It's a misconception that you are totally alone out there," he said. "It's more like a city moving forward or a thinned-out race."
As an avid hiker, Alt had considered hiking the trail, which spans 14 states, for several years. But it wasn't until he read an article about a man who made the same journey to raise funds for cancer research that he decided to take on the challenge in order to benefit the Sunshine Children's Home.
"I thought, 'I can do this,'" said Alt, who is ecstatic about combining his career choice and his love of hiking to better the community. "It's the perfect time to do it--just after college and right before starting my career."
Best of all, he noted, "It's an all-around win-win situation. This will benefit everyone [at the facility], not just my brother. But my heart is in it for him."
For more information, contact the Sunshine Foundation, Inc., 7223 Maumee Western Rd., Maumee, OH 43537; (419) 865-0251, or http://www.sunshinefnd.com on the web.
Holly Crawford is an editorial assistant at ADVANCE.