Barrett Keene walks across America to raise awareness

Alfredo Aparicio/Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Jacob Barreth

Through dirt roads and mountains; through small towns and big cities; through rain, hail, snow and heat, one man is making a nine month, 3, 475 mile trek from Miami to San Francisco in order to raise awareness on the realities facing impoverished communities and orphaned youths.

Barrett Keene, a PhD student at Cornell University, first became aware of the extreme realities facing underprivileged communities when he went down to the Panamanian boarder as an undergrad at the University of Florida to teach English and sustainable farming practices to the community.

“There were some areas in extreme poverty and meeting and teaching children that were in completely different conditions, running around in rags or less and without clean water, getting sick and dying of preventable illnesses. I felt as though God was watering my cold, dry, selfish heart.” described Keene. “We often get into this busy mindset and become human doings instead of human beings.”

Keene realization led him on trips to Central America to Guatemala, Haiti, and Brazil during spring and Christmas breaks in which he continued to see what poverty was doing, not only to the adults, but also to the children in these communities.

“My trip to Guatemala was the first time I visited an orphanage and meet with kids that were suffering and it’s not their fault. Children cannot do much for themselves. It is our opportunity to serve and help them,” said Keene. “This continuous volunteering made me realize that I need to do something.”

Partnering with the Global Orphan Project and Legacy Champ, who sponsored his trip supplies when they found out what he was doing, Keene decided to walk across America in an effort to expose others to the reality of orphaned children and helping them see that it’s the small decisions that can make a big impact on others, like donating a school uniform for a child in Uganda or Haiti, who is not allowed to go to school unless they have a school uniform but because of their conditions cannot afford to buy it.

“A uniform can be the dividing line between a child being allowed to earn an education and a future or being locked out of school. This is horrible for all children, and this tragic reality has particular importance for girls,” Keene said. “One uniform can provide students with an opportunity and option for the future. “

Keene waited till he went home to Florida to start training for the walk, where he spent a month walking and running and even participated in IronMan 70.3 Miami.

“I try to stay in good shape,” said Keene, “and I’ve always has a passion for pushing myself physically, but it’s been tough. There was a stretch of about 45 days where it 105 degrees everyday and I was walking for 17 miles. I am about to finish walking across the Rocky Mountains and it’s challenging.  Your whole body hurts, but it’s good because we’ve been able to raise awareness in almost 800,000 people through social media, newspapers, radio, television, and speeches throughout the country. Now I’m preparing to cross the Nevada desert and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which could be very well be covered in snow.”

On his walk, Keene has been able to speak at churches, schools and universities while trying to understand and help middle and high school teachers be more effective and exceptional leaders as part of his dissertation and research.

“It’s been incredible to see how willing people are across the country to help,” Keene said. “I think deep down, below the hardness and distrust that prevent and damage our relationships, there’s a desire to be involved in and used for a better and higher purpose.”

As he finishes his final 1000 miles, Keene urges people to get involved, not just with his cause, but in general. “First, if you’re interested, get involved. Get down and dirty and learn about the challenges others face so you can help; and if you don’t have that passion, get yourself in action and let the action of doing drive your passions.”

To get involved, visit and sign up to donate pennies for each of the final 1,000 miles Keene will walk or a school uniform, which allows a child to go to school, creates jobs in impoverished communities and helps in the care of orphaned children. All proceeds go to the Global Orphan Project.

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