Denise Chartrand is going on a hike for a cause.
The Pennsylvania Furnace resident on Monday headed to Baxter State Park in Maine, where she began hiking the 282 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the state for homelessness awareness and to hopefully raise some money for several local nonprofit organizations.
She'll have her backpack with some supplies, a sleeping bag and a tent. But she purposefully does not have a detailed plan for the hike.
"Everything is up in the air, just as it is for many homeless people," she said.
Chartrand has volunteered for four years with Out of the Cold Centre County, a nonprofit coalition of 14 faith congregations that rotate as sites for homeless shelters from October through May.
She and her fiancé, Scott Bogert, are also avid hikers. Last summer Bogert hiked through Maine and Chartrand traveled with him to support him on the trail. Along the way, she found a homeless shelter and spent some time volunteering there.
"I just fell in love with the people," she said.
So Chartrand decided to return this year to do the hike herself for homelessness awareness.
It's difficult to pinpoint the homeless population in Centre County. Each year organizations and county officials conduct a Point-in-Time count on a single day in January. This year that count found 62 people who were homeless and had found shelter and another four who were unsheltered.
The number of homeless though can change from day to day difficult to count accurately because homelessness and housing instability happens in different ways. Last year, for example, 30 Penn State students identified as homeless on their federal aid application, according to Project Cahir, a Penn State organization that works to combat poverty among students.
Chartrand recalled reading about homeless Penn State students.
"I was really impressed that they’re going to school at Penn State but yet they’re homeless. That takes courage," she said.
She said that is an example of how it is important not to stereotype those who do experience homelessness.
"They’re people, just like us," she said. "They get a bad rap... Some have disabilities. Some have jobs and some are going to college. They’re just trying to make ends meet or trying to go to college so they can provide for their future."
Chartrand hopes those who learn of her effort will consider volunteering their time to homeless shelters and other organizations that help the less fortunate. She would also like people to consider donating to four nonprofit organizations (listed below) at least a penny for every mile she plans to hike -- a mere $2.82.
"Just donate in my name or in your own name," she said. "I’m just going to hike and do the best I can. I’ll try to complete the 282 miles and if it takes me 30 days or however long it takes me, the point is not really my hike. The point is the awareness. That’s the main goal... The reward for this is for people to become more aware that there is an opportunity to join with these charities."
The organizations are:
Out of the Cold Centre County
PO Box 784
State College, PA 16804
Hearts for Homeless
100 S. Fraser St.
State College, PA 16801
Centre Volunteers in Medicine
2520 Green Tech Drive, Suite D
State College, PA 16803
Keystone Trails Association
46 E. Main St.
Mechanicsburg, PA 17055
Other organizations that provide emergency and transitional shelter and services in Centre County include Housing Transitions, Centre County Youth Service Bureau, and Centre County Women's Resource Center.