If you ask any parent, they’d say that they would go to great lengths for their children. For Mike McKenna, that length is more than 2,600 miles. On January 31, 2023, McKenna embarked on a four-month walk across the United States to increase awareness of autism and raise funds for The New England Center for Children® (NECC®), a leader in autism education and research, where his son Michael has been a student for 17 years. McKenna plans to walk 22 miles per day, taking two days off each week for rest, and anticipates completing the cross-country trek in approximately 115 days.
“I want to put a face to autism. I want people to know who my son is and humanize this condition for others. I want these kids to matter,” said McKenna. “The Mike Walk Across America is an opportunity to give back to NECC for the love, education and support provided to my son and family, and to thousands like us.”
Raising Awareness, One Step at a Time – Walk Route
The Mike Walk Across America will start at Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA and follow an eastern route through the nine states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and ending in Jacksonville, Florida. Major stops include Phoenix, AZ, Albuquerque, NM, Amarillo, TX, Oklahoma City, OK, Memphis, TN, Montgomery, AL, and Jacksonville, F
L. Depending on weather and other factors, the route and arrival time at each major stop may vary.
McKenna has spent the last year training and equipping himself with the knowledge to face the many long days and miles of heat, cold, fatigue, rain, and other unpredictable challenges of a cross-country walk. Besides the occasional couch of friendly supporters, McKenna will camp outdoors at night. Through it all, the impact that NECC has on children with autism will inspire McKenna to keep going.
“Schools like The New England Center for Children can save families’ lives,” said McKenna. “They certainly did for my family.”
Michael was diagnosed with autism at 18 months after he lost his ability to speak and play. His behavior grew difficult and dangerous to himself, and the McKennas struggled to find the proper help for Michael’s severe autism.
“It was clear the staff at NECC was not intimidated by Michael’s disability. For the first time, somebody was confident in their ability to understand and help our son, and it was such a relief,” said McKenna. “The importance and impact of NECC on the autism community isn’t just local to Southborough. It’s the education, the research, and the technology, and the training of teachers who work in cities, states, and countries across the world. They bring the gold standard of autism education and treatment to the world.”
Help Support Autism Awareness and Education
In 2009, the McKenna family began hosting the annual MIKE Golf Classic, raising $800,000 over 12 years. COVID forced the event to transition to a local 100-mile walk along the Cape Cod Rail Trail. This year, McKenna wanted to set his sights higher with a cross-country trek. “I wanted to do something that brought what NECC is doing for kids like Michael justice,” he explained.
McKenna is hoping to raise $150,000 for NECC, to support not only equipment and activities for the students, but also research opportunities and professional development for teachers. Preparing special education teachers and behavior analysts for careers beyond the Center in Southborough, MA, is one of NECC’s missions.
For more information or to donate to The Mike Walk Across America, please visit www.necc.org/Mike-Walk. You can track McKenna’s journey by joining The Mike Walk Across America 2023 Facebook group or following @themikewalk on Instagram, using the hashtag #MikeWalk23.
Mike has received support from many people both inside and outside the NECC community, including a variety of corporate sponsors, with Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Massachusetts as the premier sponsor.