St. John’s grads hike all of Long Island for charity

THE COURIER/Photos by Terence M. Cullen

Most recent college graduates spend their first few weeks of freedom basking in the summer weather and decompressing after finals.

But six Queens transplants decided to take in the outdoors in a different way.

From May 28 to June 4, five recent St. John’s University graduates and one current student trekked 128 miles from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Montauk Lighthouse to raise money for a Developmental Disabilities Institute (DDI) facility.

The group surpassed its goal of $20,000 toward renovations at the DDI Little Plains campus in Huntington, raising money from sponsorships, private donations and people they met during the course of their journey.

“They decided to mark their graduation, all six of these students, by doing something to help others,” said Dan Rowland, DDI’s director of development. “They’re just great, great kids.”

Nathan Holmes and John Kenny were ready to make the trip after graduation, but wanted to find a cause to walk for.

Since they both knew people with autism, they found DDI was an ideal cause.

Walkers wore signs on their backpacks relating to the walk.

They worked from February to May securing sponsors and mapping out their trip, at times putting it ahead of their classes. The number of walkers soon expanded to six when Kenny’s brother Liam and fellow graduates Morgan Zajkowski, Mike Sardone and Rita Rausch joined in. Rausch had to opt out due to work commitments, but graduate Michael Cunniff replaced her.

The six, who are originally from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Utah and Maryland, had never been so far out on the island.

During the journey, they carried whatever rations they could along with signs promoting the walk, which Kenny said caught the attention of people driving by. He added that throughout their walk, people stopped and asked about DDI, often making a donation as a result.

Kenny said what helped cultivate all of this was previous volunteering the six had done while in school.

“Everybody does have an inclination toward service,” he said. “Our time at St. John’s has definitely influenced our desire to serve our community. It’s made us more aware that we can use our abilities to impact other people’s lives.”

As weather became a problem at times, the group grew concerned about potential health affects. Their first day was rainy and damp, but a heat wave hovering around 90 degrees followed and took a toll on their bodies.

However, a stop at the Little Plains facility about halfway through the trip helped motivate the group to finish the trek.

“Everybody was really excited to meet with us, and obviously we were excited to meet everyone else,” Cunniff said, adding it “put a little hop in our step for [Thursday’s] walk.”

Zajkowski said there were few facilities outside of New York City like DDI’s centers. She added she was impressed by the care the institute’s staff gave.

“It’s really cool to see how well taken care of the DDI families are,” Zajkowski said.

Holmes said seeing the programs in action helped paint of picture of DDI’s significance.

“The programs they have, you can’t find them in other parts of the country,” he said.

Those who want to still donate can by calling Ellen Holmes at 631-366-2978 or visiting www.ddiny.org.



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