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 2,500 miles. This September, McKenna will embark on a trek walking across the United States to raise money for The New England Center for Children (NECC), where his son, Michael, has been a student for 16 years.

“This is an opportunity to give back to NECC for the love and professional support provided to my son and my family,” said McKenna. “I want to put a face to autism. I want people to know who my son is and humanize this condition. I want these kids to matter.”

Michael was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old. In 2009, McKenna and his wife, Lori, began hosting The MIKE Golf Classic at the end of each summer, raising more than $700,000 for NECC. According to McKenna, the event “created quite a following of loyal golfers and supporters,” but when COVID hit, shutting everything down and preventing the 140-plus golfers from gathering for the annual tournament, the McKennas had to get creative.

“We knew the sponsors and supporters of the golf tournament cared deeply about the cause, and we thought they would want to continue their support if given the opportunity,” McKenna said. “We had to think outside of the box. My son, Matt, and I came up with the idea of doing a walk.”

In 2020, after 12 years, The MIKE transitioned from a golf tournament to a 100-mile walk along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, a flat, safe trail that presented no COVID concerns and allowed those who wanted the opportunity to continue supporting NECC. McKenna and his son walked 25 miles each day for four consecutive days.

This year, McKenna is setting his sights even higher with a cross-country walk, which will begin in Southern California and finish in Florida. McKenna said it will likely take him five months to complete, giving him ample opportunity to share his message of autism awareness, and to raise money for NECC.

“This is an opportunity to raise awareness about NECC and the special people they serve,” explained McKenna. “Autism is a lifelong disability. It’s critical we spread the word about providing the right type of services to this population as early in their lives as possible. The return on investment is lifelong.”

As to why he decided to take on such a long walk, well, it’s all for his son. “I wanted to do something substantial for NECC,” he said. “My son and the rest of my family have benefited immensely from caring and competent NECC professionals who dedicate their lives to the treatment and education of kids with autism. My hope is by walking across the country it may give more exposure to NECC. The need is greater than ever.”

For more information or to donate to McKenna’s walk, visit www.necc.org/mike-walk or contact [email protected].