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Friends walk across country to raise money for the homeless

Danny Finnegan, 23, of Rockville Centre, and his

Danny Finnegan, 23, of Rockville Centre, and his friend, Abby Bongaarts, 24, of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, set out March 1 from Long Beach to walk across the country. The two crossed the George Washington Bridge on March 3 and were in Dayton, Ohio, as of Wednesday. Credit: Abby Bongaarts

Danny Finnegan spent years learning to navigate Long Island’s roads by car. He never thought he’d end up walking some of them.

Finnegan, of Rockville Centre, and his friend, Abby Bongaarts, 24, of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, set out from Long Beach on March 1 on a trip walking across the country, a personal passion project for them both and a way to raise money for the homeless.

“It was fascinating walking from Rockville Centre to Brooklyn,” Finnegan, 23, said. “I was already thinking this is the longest I ever walked.”

Since March, they’ve hiked about 20 to 25 miles a day. Their goal is to reach San Francisco by September, and as of Wednesday, they had traveled as far as Dayton, Ohio, Finnegan said. In the afternoons, they map out their routes at coffee shops and diners. They mostly camp out at night, sometimes even on home front lawns after they get permission. Many of their hosts offer them meals and an opportunity to shower.

The friends met while working for a year at Portland, Oregon-based JOIN, an organization that provides support services for the homeless through AmeriCorps and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest in 2015. Bongaarts, 24, said she has long wanted to walk across the country and frequently talked about it.

“I was a freshman in college and one day it just kind of popped into my head and I couldn’t let it go,” she said. “It really allows you to see a place and is an opportunity to stop and talk to people. America is so huge and I thought walking would be the best mode of transportation to do that.”

To her surprise, Finnegan was seriously interested in the idea. In March 2016, they had their first planning session. They researched other people’s trips to figure out the equipment they’d need and the money they needed to save.

“It was way more research than I anticipated,” Finnegan said.

Finnegan said the trip was self-financed for them both, but friends and family wanted to help and kept offering money. The two decided to add a fundraising component to the trip: Each time someone offered them cash or a check, they’d instead put it toward a fund for JOIN. As of Wednesday, they’d raised close to $13,000, Finnegan said.

“It’s amazing. They talked about doing it while they were both working here,” said Sydney Linden, JOIN’s development director. “We’re excited to actually see it came to fruition.”

The trip has been physically demanding, but nothing they haven’t been able to handle, Bongaarts said. They are chronicling their journey on a blog with pictures and stories, like the time their supply cart’s wheel broke and they scrambled to find a replacement.

Their friends and family have continued to cheer them on as they move farther west, Bongaarts said.

“My mom put up a map of America in her cubicle at her office and she puts pins as we go along,” she said. “I told her she’s the coolest mom in the office.”


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