Just a little more than a month ago, Carle Place resident Richard Fenster set out, quite determined, on a quest to help sick children in need of heart surgery. His aim was to complete an incredible 1,100 mile journey on foot from Florida to New York to raise money and awareness for the Rotary Gift of Life Program, which provides life-saving heart surgery for needy children from around the world.
En route from Florida to New York by foot, Richard Fenster is shown at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Triangle, Virginia. The Carle Place resident is expected to complete the home stretch of his 1,100 mile journey today, and will be accompanied by students of Carle Place Middle School down Westbury Avenue and Cherry Lane.
Today, Fenster is expected to complete that seemingly impossible trip, and will finish the home stretch in his hometown of Carle Place. He will be accompanied and cheered on in his last mile by students of the Carle Place Middle School, as he travels down Westbury Avenue and Cherry Lane to Carle Place High School.
Fenster was reached by cellular phone while walking through Virginia on April 27, and he described the inspiration the local students have given him. "With the kids being there at the end, that makes the whole trip better. I have something to look forward to, and know that there are people who care about what I'm doing," he said. "And it's kid's helping kids."
Another highlight of the trip, Fenster noted, came when Jim Braddock, a decorated Vietnam War hero, accompanied him on a 5-mile run on Easter Sunday. "That made my Easter Sunday," said Fenster.
Fenster, a Home Depot employee, husband, and father of three, began his ambitious trek on March 31, with the goal of raising $20,000 for Gift of Life, a project of Rotary District 7250. Founded in 1975, it is a non-profit corporation administered by participating Rotarians of District 7250. Through the program, doctors at participating hospitals donate their time and services for the surgeries, while money raised by Rotary funds the medical supplies and ancillary costs.
Fenster's crusade began at the Home Depot store in St. Augustine, Florida, and will finish at the Home Depot on Jericho Turnpike in Westbury today, May 10. For most of the trip, he has traveled along US Route 1, walking an average of 28 miles a day, and staying nights in low-cost motels. Fenster is paying for travel and lodging out-of-pocket.
This year's walk follows the 1,000 MileWalk for Life led by actor Chad Everett for The Gift of Life, this past fall. That walk started in Waycross, Georgia on Sept. 19, 2000 and was completed Oct. 8, 2000. Many volunteers joined Everett in the walk, including Fenster. In the past, Fenster has also done long-distance treks to raise funds for the Leukemia Society and St. Mary's Family and Children Services in Syosset.
The fund raiser for leukemia patients, completed in the fall of 1999, was a combination walk/bicycle trek of about 1175 miles through the Southern US, much of it in hurricane conditions. It raised about $6,000. In the spring of 2000, Fenster completed the fund raiser for St. Mary's Family and Children Services. He walked 220 miles throughout New York, stopping at 22 different Home Depot stores, and raised approximately $8,000. At the beginning of both walks, he received a blessing at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church in Carle Place, where he is a parishioner, as well as an escort from the Carle Place Fire Department.
Fenster is an alumnus of Carle Place Public Schools, graduating from Carle Place High School in 1979. He and his wife Maria have three sons, Richard, 15, Chris, 13 and Timmy, 3. His compassion for ill children, and their families, continues to be the driving force behind his ultra-long-distance, fund-raising crusades.
He is hoping that many local residents will cheer him on in Carle Place, as he nears his finish today. He is expected to meet the students from Carle Place Middle School at 11:45 a.m. at Glen Cove Road and Westbury Avenue, and begin heading down Westbury Avenue and Cherry Lane, to Carle Place High School.
For further information about the Rotary Gift of Life Program, one may contact Robert Donno, chairman of the program, at 504-0830. Those who wish to sponsor Richard Fenster's walk may send donations directly to the The Gift of Life, Inc., 505 Northern Blvd., Suite 102, Great Neck, New York 11021.