One man’s journey to raise money for charity is taking him across the country and back, and he’ll be walking every step of it.
Matt Parrish’s mission, which he is calling the “Trek of Hope,” is to raise money and awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation by walking from Tampa to Los Angeles and back again.
Parrish, an army veteran who served in Iraq, came up with the idea last December when he found himself at a crossroads in his life.
“I was active duty until April 2010. I started going to school in Georgia, but I just knew that wasn’t right. I was just biding my time and trying to figure out something else to do with my life,” Parrish said. “So I thought ‘What can I do?’ Well, I can help somebody. I can affect and change somebody else’s life.”
He found the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF), which provides support to the special operations members of the military and their families. The foundation provides financial support to families if they are injured or killed, and grant college scholarships to every child who has lost a parent who served as special operations. The foundation currently serves 760 children, and have seen 143 graduate from college.
“When Matt first contacted us with the idea in mid-December of 2010, we were impressed with his enthusiasm and his desire to support with the foundation, “ Wendy Bourland, the Communications and Events Manager of SOWF, said. “ However, we were also a bit skeptical, because he wanted to depart on the Trek in mid-January, less than a month away. And we realized this was going to be a huge challenge for him both physically and mentally.”
Despite the challenges that come with walking thousands of miles on foot, like a whole lot of blisters, Parrish is unfailingly optimistic and focused on his goal. He hopes to raise money for the foundation and spread awareness about their mission.
“I’m hurt, I’m sore in the mornings when I wake up and it takes me a little while to get moving. But I definitely get the easy end of my bargain,” Parrish said. “In a year’s time I get to stop and say ‘Hey, I’m done. Mission accomplished. It’s over for me.’ But the people and the families in the community that I’m walking for don’t get it so easy.”
While Parrish did not serve in special operations during his time in the Army, he said the community is still very important to him. He explained that because they are often on covert operations, the public doesn’t hear much about special operations casualties or injuries. They are, however, more likely to be killed or injured due to the particularly dangerous situations they are often sent into.
“Since they don’t get the same air play, they’re kind of forgotten about. Now on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Hollywood that loves to produce a movie that is about superheroes and special ops guys that get shot up 20 times, still complete the mission and get the girl at the end, right?” Parrish said. “It’s not like that. These guys are super human to a point, they are superheroes to a point, but they’re flesh and blood like the rest of us.”
So about two months ago, he started walking. He carries only the essentials with him: a sleeping bag, tent, a few changes of clothes, and some toiletry items. He walks 15 to 20 miles a day along the various highways using Interstate 20 as his guide. Most nights he camps out in the woods, but people often offer to him a place to stay when they hear his story.
He keeps a blog and a Facebook page to document the Trek and his adventures along the way. He manages to keep it all going using an iPhone and a solar charger.
He made his way up Florida into Georgia, and walked across Alabama and made it into Mississippi a few days ago. Along the way, he’s met people that have helped him out in one way or another after hearing about his cause. Parrish made it a point to stop in Starkville yesterday so he could visit his friend, Jonathan Phillips, who plays football for Mississippi State University.
“I think it’s great. I like to see someone who wants to actually take action by making a change, making a difference,” Phillips said. “Not just saying they want to do something, but actually make a change in their own life and make it happen. I think it’s a good example to a lot of people.”
Parrish initially thought it would take him between 7 and 9 months to finish his journey, but now he believes it will take at least a year. On his return trip, he will be taking a different route so he can reach as many people as possible. While his goal is to raise $25,000, he hopes to raise much more. He has already raised over $6,000 for the foundation through online donations.
“Two months in, we are very impressed with Matt’s attitude, his fundraising skills, and most importantly, his ability to connect with the people he meets along the way,” Bourland said. “He’s been a great ambassador for the SOWF and its mission, and we will support him any way we can.”
For more information on Matt Parrish’s journey and the Trek for Hope, visit: http://trekforhope.blogspot.com  or the Trek for Hope Facebook page. To donate or learn more about the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, visit: www.firstgiving.com/jacobparrish1 .
“You need something crazy and unique and different in this time period to draw attention,” Parrish said. “And to walk across the country; first of all, who walks anywhere these days? So it does draw attention. It grabs people’s awareness really quickly. Awareness is half of this mission.”