St. John's alums raise funds for autism with walk from Brooklyn Bridge to Montauk
They gathered on the Brooklyn Bridge early Sunday, St. John's University graduates and friends wearing neon T-shirts, and set off on foot for Montauk Point -- 130 miles away.
For the second year, the walk from the bridge to the beach through Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties, about 18 miles a day, will raise money for a Smithtown nonprofit that serves children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. The trek ends Saturday at the Montauk Point Lighthouse.
For some in the group, the walk is a chance to contribute to a cause that they are close to, and do community service -- a commitment they said was fostered while students at St. John's.
"More than just the walk . . . I want to use whatever talents and skills I have to give back to the community," said John Kenny, 23, one of two St. John's graduates who organized the walk.
Many in the group -- there is a core of about seven, though it numbered about a dozen at one point, including other St. John's alumni -- are friends or were once roommates or neighbors.
After a stop at St. John's, where they attended Mass and collected a $305 donation from parishioners, they ended the day at Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City and stayed at a house in Levittown.
"I don't know anyone from Long Island who has ever done that," said Peter Barker, 23, a 2013 St. John's grad at whose house the group spent the first night.
He added: "To do something great like this and to be friends, it's everything I could ask for."
Another St. John's graduate, Nathan Holmes, 23, told Kenny about the idea two years after their failed, though memorable, attempt to walk from Salamanca, Spain, to Zamora, an hour away.
"When we were in our sophomore year. . . . It was sort of about doing an impulsive thing and being wild and adventurous," Holmes said. "We still want wild and adventurous, but we wanted to give back."
Kenny suggested partnering with the Developmental Disabilities Institute, a Smithtown nonprofit, after working as a consultant with the group while enrolled in the school's Executive-In-Residence Program.
For Holmes, the idea struck a chord; he said a family friend and neighbor has autism.
Autism affects one in every 68 children, a 30 percent rise since last reported two years ago, federal researchers recently found.
Last year, the walkers raised $22,000 for the Smithtown nonprofit. Proceeds this year will help pay for renovation of the nonprofit's Little Plains Road School in Huntington and the school playground.
"It speaks to the fact that our young people possess a certain amount of empathy and a sense of mission that we often don't give them enough credit for," said Daniel Rowland, the Smithtown nonprofit's director of development.
Friends and some nonprofit employees have offered their homes for overnight rest. And the group will visit the nonprofit's schools on Long Island.
For drivers who likely couldn't explain what the walkers in neon T-shirts were doing, one person's sign said it all: "Meet Me in Montauk."