How One Local Woman Walked Coast to Coast to Help the Homeless

A country road in Kansas.

As a freshman in college, Abby Bongaarts had an idea. She wanted to walk the entire country, from one coast to the other. She says, “It just sort of popped into my head one day, almost like an epiphany, and I couldn’t let the idea go.” One year ago, in March of 2017, she set off with her walking partner, Danny Finnegan, whom she met working at a homeless shelter in Portland, Ore. They figured the walk would be a chance for adventure, to meet new people and to see more of the country. It also ended up being an amazing opportunity to raise money for an important cause.

Bongaarts says she and Finnegan saved their own money for the walk, but many friends and family members wanted to donate. Rather than keep the donated money for their own use, they decided to use the walk to raise money for Join, the homeless shelter they’d worked at in Portland. With a grant matching all of Bongaarts and Finnegan’s donations, Join ended up receiving a donation of over $50,000.

Bongaarts says the walk was physically more challenging than she expected. She and Finnegan walked 20–30 miles a day, nearly every day, which was “just plain exhausting.” One obstacle was walking through the desert in Utah and Nevada, with up to 100 miles between towns and water sources.

Bongaarts says, overall, “the walk gave me a new viewpoint and appreciation for America, and it definitely instilled a sense of confidence in me that achieving big goals is possible with patience and persistence.” Even so, she’s “looking forward to spending a couple years putting some roots down here in Minneapolis.”