How far will you go to change the world?

Like all of us, you have your pet causes. Maybe you work at a food pantry, or volunteer as a board member for your favorite non-profit, or respond to disasters for the local Red Cross. Maybe you spend what little free time you have during tax season filing returns for those in need.

Whatever you do, pinpointing your passion is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how much of a burden you can carry.

Frank Ryan has set the bar pretty high — 2,826 miles high, to be exact.

The CPA, consultant and Business Learning Institute thought leader is spending his spring and early summer on a remarkable journey that finds him walking from coast to coast to raise awareness for Good Shepherd Services, a non-profit organization that provides treatment and care for teens and young adults with developmental disabilities.

Ryan’s journey has its roots in the 2008 recession. Now in its 150th year, Good Shepherd’s funding dropped drastically after the downturn and Ryan, a 30-year volunteer with the organization and current president of its Board of Directors, decided to take action. Along with Good Shepherd CEO Michele Wyman, Development Director Diana Ellis, and the rest of the staff, Ryan hatched a plan designed to shine a spotlight on the group and its mission.

“I was concerned that the need for this type of treatment was growing (as funding was falling),” said Ryan, 62. “Consistency of treatment for these children is just as important as the treatment itself. So we decided to develop an awareness of the needs of children with developmental disabilities. We wanted to be advocates for children who may not have anyone else advocating for them.”

‘A walk of atonement and gratitude’
Ryan’s journey began on March 15 near San Diego. It will end 100 days later in Ocean City, Md., where he is scheduled to teach a July 2 course at the Maryland Association of CPAs’ annual Beach Retreat.

In between, he’ll walk 32 miles a day on a route that will take him literally from sea to shining sea, carving a path through 14 states — California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware.

No support vehicles will follow him on his journey. Ryan will carry 50 pounds of supplies in a backpack and pull an additional 60 to 80 pounds of food, water, and gear behind him. His only companions will be those who see fit to join him for a mile or two on what he is calling “a walk of atonement and gratitude.”

“The first part is atonement,” Ryan said. “I want to ask any person that I have hurt in my life to forgive me, any person that I have let down or disappointed to pray for me, and any person I have helped to consider helping another. The gratitude part is this: I’m asking anyone who is willing to follow me for a mile or two, so that they can help carry some supplies. I don’t know if I will get that support, but I will be very grateful for any help I can get.

“It’s important to do that,” he added, “and I’ll tell you why: Our children (at Good Shepherd) don’t know who’s going to turn out to help them. I want to replicate that feeling of not knowing. I’d be lying to you if I told you I’m not getting anxious right now. Our kids can’t ask what the contingency plan is. We are their contingency plan. At the drop of a hat, I could say, ‘I’m done. I’m too old to do this.’ These children don’t have that choice.”

Ryan will get plenty of support from the folks at Good Shepherd. The staff has created a “Walk Across America Challenge” to encourage staff to “walk with Frank in solidarity,” Ellis said. Teams of 10 to 20 staffers will track the miles they walk on the job or at home in the hopes of matching Ryan mile for mile. Those who would rather not walk can still participate via donations; every dollar donated will count as a mile toward the goal. All money collected will be used to fund programming for Good Shepherd students.

“We’re so appreciative of what Frank has been doing for us all these years, and for what he is doing for us this year in celebrating our 150 anniversary,” Ellis said. “We are excited about this walk — it’s wonderful. We’re still working through a lot of the unknowns associated with this, but he has been willing to embark on it and go at it with full force, and so are we.”

‘I’m going to finish this thing’
Ryan began training for the walk about 15 months ago, logging more than 2,000 miles on foot in the process. He also put on an extra 10 pounds or so, since he expects to lose up to 25 pounds during his journey.

Then there’s the issue of temperature.

He left Maryland’s cool early spring behind to start the walk in Southern California’s 70- and 80-degree climate before crossing into the hot, harsh conditions of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. “The first two weeks pose the greatest risk,” he said. “I won’t be acclimated to those temperatures. If I can’t do 32 miles a day at the beginning, I’ll wait until I get past the desert and make up for it with a few 40-mile days.”

His biggest worry, though, is failure.

Ryan says his work with Good Shepherd has been “a lifelong passion” and is “what I intend to do for the rest of my life,” and for one reason.

“I fell in love with the mission,” he said. “The sisters of the Good Shepherd are my heroes. I see the kindness and the humanness in their hearts. They believe in taking care and treating one child at a time. When you see the letters from the parents and grandparents of the children who have been helped, it just melts your heart, and I told myself I have to do more of this.”

That’s the source of his fear of failure.

“If I fail, I’ll feel like I’m disappointing these children,” he said. “I don’t want them to ever feel like an adult is going to walk away from them. No matter what, when, how, or why, I guarantee I’m going to finish this thing. I don’t care if I have to crawl. These children and the entire (Good Shepherd) staff are going to know that somebody gives a damn about them.”

Want to help?
You can support Ryan on his journey and help Good Shepherd Services at the same time by donating to the “Walk Across America” campaign. For details, visit GSSMaryland.org and click on “Walk Across America.”

In the meantime, you can follow Ryan’s progress across the country by liking his “Walk Across America” page on Facebook. We’ll also publish periodic updates from Ryan right here on the pages of CPA Success.

Safe travels, Frank! 

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