Matt Parrish, left, stopped in Starkville on his âTrek for Hopeâ to see his friend, Jonathan Phillips. (Photo by Colleen McCarthy)
One manâs journey to raise money for charity is taking him across the country and back, and heâll be walking every step of it.
Matt Parrishâs mission, which he is calling the âTrek of Hope,â 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.
âI was active duty until April 2010. I started going to school in Georgia, but I just knew that wasnât right. I was just biding my time and trying to figure out something else to do with my life,â Parrish said. âSo I thought âWhat can I do?â Well, I can help somebody. I can affect and change somebody elseâs life.â
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.
âWhen 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, â Wendy Bourland, the Communications and Events Manager of SOWF, said. â 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.â
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.
âIâm hurt, Iâm 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,â Parrish said. âIn a yearâs time I get to stop and say âHey, Iâm done. Mission accomplished. Itâs over for me.â But the people and the families in the community that Iâm walking for donât get it so easy.â
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 doesnât 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.
âSince they donât get the same air play, theyâre 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?â Parrish said. âItâs not like that. These guys are super human to a point, they are superheroes to a point, but theyâre flesh and blood like the rest of us.â
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, heâs 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.
âI think itâs great. I like to see someone who wants to actually take action by making a change, making a difference,â Phillips said. âNot just saying they want to do something, but actually make a change in their own life and make it happen. I think itâs a good example to a lot of people.â
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.
âTwo months in, we are very impressed with Mattâs attitude, his fundraising skills, and most importantly, his ability to connect with the people he meets along the way,â Bourland said. âHeâs been a great ambassador for the SOWF and its mission, and we will support him any way we can.â
For more information on Matt Parrishâs 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.
âYou need something crazy and unique and different in this time period to draw attention,â Parrish said. âAnd to walk across the country; first of all, who walks anywhere these days? So it does draw attention. It grabs peopleâs awareness really quickly. Awareness is half of this mission.â