NEWARK – Deb Dingus will spend the next few months preparing for a long hike.
She’ll get in shape by walking long distances, adjusting to all kinds of weather, and will be planning her route carefully.
The executive director of United Way of Licking County has been an avid backpacker for 30 years. But in April, she’ll begin a trip that will be vastly different from anything she’s tried before.
Dingus will walk for 50 days, through every township in Licking County, with hopes of raising $50,000 for United Way. Her goal is to meet as many country residents as possible to talk about issues facing the area and ways they can help.
“I see it as a call to action,” Dingus said. “Everyone can do something.”
Dingus came up with the idea for the project — which she’s calling the Give, Walk, Do campaign — while thinking about the intersection of some personal and professional milestones.
She’s celebrating her 50th birthday as well as her fifth year being cancer free, after a battle with breast cancer in 2010.
“I’ve been gifted 50 years and I want to give back out of gratitude,” she said. “I wanted to give back one day for every year I’ve been alive. I want to say thank you to God and to the larger community.”
United Way is also wrapping up an 18-month project to create a community blueprint for Licking County. The report, which is expected to be unveiled in the next few months, focuses on challenges that need to be addresses.
Some of the big issues include substance abuse, poverty, inadequate public transportation and lack of access to mental health services.
Dingus wanted to come up with a way to educate the community and get them involved in solving these problems. But she knew she had to think outside the box.
Walking 50 miles seemed like the perfect way to catch the public’s attention, while doing something she enjoyed.
“You do what you love and God uses those gifts and talents to bless others,” Dingus said. “Backpacking has been a gift in my life. It has strengthened me through difficult times and I can use it to strengthen our community.”
She’s planning to spend two days in each of Licking County’s townships from April 7 until May 26.
“I want to hit every corner of the county,” she said.
Carrying her supplies with her, she’s planning to camp outside each night .
“I’ll carry what I need to live on my back,” she said. “That’s more than some people struggling with homelessness have.”
As she walks, Dingus and her staff at United Way will be documenting her journey through social media.
She’s hoping to highlight the resources and places that make Licking County special, including parks, farms and examples of natural beauty.
But she also wants to shed light on people in need and talk to residents about what’s important to them.
She’s hoping to schedule events with schools, church groups and local governments to talk about the community blue print. But she also wants to meet people going about their lives — walking their dogs or sitting at a coffee shop.
She’s hoping her 50 day commitment will show change takes time, but it’s worth it.
“The 50 days represents the marathon we are in,” she said. “The kind of change we are talking about takes time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We need the community to be here for the long haul.”
There are many ways residents can get involved, Dingus said.
They can make a donation, which will be used by United Way to fund programs. They can also invite Dingus to speak about the community blueprint while she’s visiting their townships.
Anyone in the community is invited to walk with Dingus or organize a sleep out challenge — sleeping outside to raise awareness of homelessness.
They can also take inspiration from Dingus’ 50 days and volunteer to help a cause they are passionate about, she said.
People are already starting to get involved and Dingus said she’s confident those 50 days will be a period of growth and change in Licking County.
“Not one of us makes it through this life alone,” she said. “And this fits with the mission of United Way — improving lives and building unity.”
To find out more about the Give, Walk, Do campaign, contact Luellen Deeds or Leigh Ann Miller at United Way of Licking County at 740-345-6685 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about donations, go to unitedwaylc.org.