Keegan Kelly had a lofty mission this summer: he walked 160 kilometres from Fredericton to Sussex, N.B. to raise awareness for the environment and to encourage people to drive less and to walk and bike more.
When I first asked for an interview, it was granted only after assurances were made that no cars would be used to facilitate the meeting. Kelly says it would be counterproductive to create pollution to talk about saving the environment. Clever kid.
(For the record, I took the bus to the Halifax Central Library where we met.)
Quiet and reserved, Kelly is not one to brag about himself, and doing interviews has been the most difficult part of the venture. He raised $2441 for the David Suzuki Foundation, whose goal is to show that “small steps make a big difference on the path to living more sustainably,”according to their website.
Kelly’s mother, Jennifer Dickinson, says that the money was an afterthought, and his primary goal was to raise awareness of environmental issues such as keeping the air clean and lowering pollution.
When Kelly asked Dickinson why people walk for cancer charities, for example, Dickinson says she told her son the people walking show their dedication to the cause, not that walking itself actually cures cancer. Kelly reasoned that for his cause, walking was an appropriate way to raise awareness while doing something useful for the environment too.
“I did an online fundraiser because I wanted to walk 100 miles to raise money for the environment and to show people how easy it is to walk to school, work, stores or anywhere else in a radius less than a few miles,”he wrote in a post on CanadaHelps.org.
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CanadaHelps.org is a charity that has been around for 15 years, says CEO Marina Glogovac.
“In the last year we had 350,000 Canadians used the website, cumulatively it’s over a million,”she said. The website includes a crowdfunding platform which Canadians can use to fundraise for charities.
What Glogovac finds so impressive about Keegan is that he wanted to help the environment. She says that from various research and studies, people say that the environment is a big concern, yet donations for environmental causes are only about three per cent. “There’s a disconnect, and I sometimes wonder if it’s because people feel hopeless, I sometimes feel hopeless. What he did is just incredible to me …I’m choking up thinking about him …we need to have that sense that we can do something, and him walking, saying ‘we can just walk a little bit more’, it’s such a simple but powerful thing that we can all start doing today. It doesn’t cost anything, it’s not complex.”
When asked about walking for five days, Kelly said it was tiring, and sometimes he wanted to stop. He and his mom, who walked with him, walked about 32 km per day, which took about six-and-a-half to seven hours, although they were usually out for about ten hours with stops along the way. Kelly’s father arrived from Alberta and walked the last leg of the journey with him.
Dickinson said that her toughest day was the first one and getting into the headspace for the walk was a challenge, but for Kelly, day two was a struggle. They had started on Canada Day, so a late night of fireworks with friends left him feeling the effects of not enough sleep the next day.
Kelly had wanted to camp, but because he didn’t want any cars used, the logistics of taking camping gear while walking 32 km per day had them staying with friends, at a hostel and at a B&B along the way before arriving at Kelly’s grandmother’s house in Sussex on the last day.
All 86,000 of Canada’s registered charities are on the site Kelly used to build his donation page, CanadaHelp.org. A charitable organization itself, it builds fundraising technology for small to medium-sized charities in Canada.
“Last year we had close to 6,000 Canadians set up fundraising pages with us for various causes,”Glogovac said, adding that it’s often something people do for a birthday, a wedding or Christmas.
CanadaHelps.org assists small charities with digital fundraising. “So many small charities, they have three, four, five-person charities, they have one or two paid staff and they rely on volunteers, and they tell us ‘if it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t be able to this…to be online,’”says Glogovac. The website also gives instant tax receipts, which saves the charities from that administrative work.
Kelly says he doesn’t currently have plans for another fundraising walk, unless maybe one day it’s with kids of his own. While he’s not into team sports, Kelly just likes being outside. It’s quite a hike – about an hour – to town from their home, so he can’t walk as often as he would like. He takes a bus to school, where he’ll be in grade seven this year.