Director of Communications
The National Center for Children and Families (NCCF)
For Stephanie, the 27 miles were personal. She carried a card in her hand, as all the hikers did, which told the story of a child who was neglected or abused. But she didn’t need the card to feel connected to the mission. She had been that child. She had felt her father’s rage, and tried to cover it up. She had heard a counselor say, “This isn’t your fault.” That kind of pain never went away. So she walked, and kept walking, even when her body ached.
Mile 16 was the toughest, she says. It was the start of a two-mile climb, and she was so tired by then that the loose stones on the Catoctin Trail made it hard to maintain her pace. The bigger rocks in the miles that followed were mentally exhausting—she had to anticipate every step to be sure she didn’t trip.
Still, she kept going
“I thought of all the things I went through as a kid, how difficult it was to get through each and every day,” says Stephanie, 21. “Then I looked at those cards and it hit me that somewhere out there, there’s someone who has it ten times worse than I did. Somewhere out there is a kid who has a burden far beyond anything he should have to bear.”
The 27-mile journey from Frederick to Thurmont was Stephanie’s first event with 1 Voice Trekking, a Maryland-based nonprofit that organizes long-distance hikes to raise money for groups supporting abused and neglected children. Cofounders Greg Blair and Michael Rhodes started 1 Voice Trekking two years ago to help raise awareness for CASA/Voices for Children, a national organization that helps find safe, loving homes for children in the court system
“There are a lot of groups out there doing a great job helping children, and we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” says Rhodes, a youth pastor who lives in Frederick. “So we decided: Let’s help them. Let’s help good nonprofits grow.”
Blair, a financial advisor for a global wealth management firm, was serving on the Board of Directors of Voices for Children. He had a three-year-old son and a newborn baby at home
“I remember thinking: How can that kind of evil exist? How could you ever do something to hurt a child?” Blair says.
He partnered with Rhodes, a friend from church, and the two invited friends to join them in a 41-mile “Maryland Challenge” on the Appalachian Trail, which they finished in 16 hours. They returned to the same trail a year later, with more hikers, and covered 52 miles in 23 hours.
“When you’re hiking for that long, you start to see strangers making connections,” Blair says. “We had one guy who was recently divorced and another who was going through it at the time. It was the middle of the night, and they’re just hiking and talking.”
On Saturday, September 1, they will be hiking again, this time with a bigger goal in mind: Recruit teams from all over the country to hike 3,000 miles in one day.
3,000 miles-24 Hours-1 Voice.
“This is an event for anyone, anywhere, who wants to be a part of helping kids.” says Blair. “We’re envisioning a virtual whistle going off and everybody hiking at the same time, pumped up about the mission.”
A team can hike a 1, 5, 10 or 30 plus mile section together or cover a larger distance by breaking it up into smaller segments and assigning sections according to ability. “We have about 20 teams so far, and we’re reaching out to hiking groups and colleges in other states,” says Blair. “We have sponsors like KEEN footwear on board. It’s amazing to see the momentum build.”
Proceeds from the hike—each team is being asked to make a $300 donation—will benefit The National Center for Children and Families (NCCF), a private, nonprofit agency that has served vulnerable children, youth, and families in the national capital region for nearly a century. NCCF is the second-largest provider of foster care in Washington, DC; the agency’s Greentree Adolescent Program (GAP), a high-intensity residential community in Bethesda, serves young males who have been victimized or traumatized.
“I was fortunate enough to hike with 1 Voice Trekking last year. It was tough, and I struggled at times, but my physical pain could never touch the emotional pain our young children and youth experience so unfairly,” says Heidi Webb, NCCF’s Director of Development and Institutional Advancement. “The money’s for them—to help give them hope for a better future.”
Blair and Rhodes are hoping that each team will also choose a local nonprofit to support, and plan a fundraiser on that group’s behalf. “We want to work with organizations that are empowering kids to have healthier lives, and we also want to empower people who love to hike to connect more with their local charities,” says Rhode
As a pastor, Rhodes works with teens who are struggling with abandonment, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental health issues. He has battled depression himself. He’s seen people turn their lives around if they get the help they need.
“Even the saddest stories can have happy endings,” says Stephanie, who’s planning to be on the trail in September. “That’s what we’re hiking for.”