Unique fund-raising effort for United Cerebral Palsy

Never mind a pie social or dunk tank, one group has come up with a unique approach to raise money for a non-profit agency : a long-distance stilt walker will hit the road for a good cause. The event is a Michigan fund-raiser for people with disabilities.  Walk on stilts through Michigan communities and countryside…to raise money for a good cause? Yes.   On stilts? Yes. Across a good part of both peninsulas? Yes again.

The event is called Walk For No Limits and it is being sponsored by United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan (UCP Michigan). The event features an expert stiltwalker, literally walking across areas of the state 10 feet off the ground. His name is Neil Sauter.  His motivation is to support services and advocacy for people with disabilities in this state. That is the “no limits” objective of the event.

Sauter himself is a person with cerebral palsy. He calls his elevated persona the “Michigan Stiltwalker” and has been doing this kind of fund-raising for a long time.  Raised in Blissfield, Sauter views himself as a person with a disability who has successfully channeled his experiences, personality and athletic ability to help other Michiganders live their lives without the usual limits that always follow people with disabilities.

Walk For No Limits begins April 12 in Ann Arbor. Sauter will stiltwalk from there to Lansing over a three-day period. This is the first of six walks he will take before finishing in Jackson on May 19. April 19-21 will find him trekking between Midland and Flint. The weekend of April 26-28, he will walk the miles from Muskegon to Grand Rapids. The distance between Petoskey and Traverse City will be Sauter’s objective the weekend of May 3-5.

The event is not just about walking on wooden stilts; Sauter and his entourage will hold “Dine to Donate” evenings at local restaurants.   During the day, he will invite local residents to walk along his route, at least for the first mile of the journey through Escanaba.

Sauter says he also plans to visit area schools in order to share his personal experiences and imposed limitations of growing up with a disability.

Walking out of Escanaba on Friday, May 10, Sauter will trek past Gladstone before calling it a day at Trenary. Saturday will find him stiltwalking to Skandia, where he will stop for the night. He says he expects to arrive in Marquette on Sunday morning, the 12th.

As for the sponsor of this event, UCP Michigan, this East Lansing-based agency has been an important advocacy force in the state for over 60 years. One motivation for its continual fund-raising, besides the present economy, is the fact that more than 13 percent of Michigan residents have some kind of disability. That is more than 1.2 million residents. Included in that number are people with life-altering disabilities who need the most help. It is UCP Michigan’s goal to support as many as possible, starting with those most in need.

Many of these Michigan people with serious disabilities face simple daily challenges including housing, education, transportation, basic medical and dental care, and finding and holding jobs.

UCP Michigan’s small staff and its volunteers support and advocate, through programs and promotional activities, for those Michigan residents who have a physical or mental disability and need outside help.

This takes money, and while there are some federal and state funds still available in these belt-tightening times, UCP Michigan operates largely on monies raised through donations and campaigns such as Walk For No Limits.

From Marquette, the fund-raiser will conclude with Sauter’s stiltwalking between Kalamazoo and Jackson during May 17-19. A number of state and national private companies and service agencies are expected to sign on as sponsors.

UCP Michigan is part of the nationwide system of advocacy programs under the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) umbrella. It is one of the largest health charities in the U.S., and among the most respected.

Like its Michigan affiliate, UCP focuses on the details and mechanics of community support for Americans with disabilities, with emphasis on the collection of disabilities known as cerebral palsy. The Centers for Disease Control defines cerebral palsy as “a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture.” The effects on the daily lives of those with cerebral palsy may require support, and that is where UCP comes in.

In support of Michigan residents with these disorders, then, UCP Michigan funds and supports a number of programs that aim to change life for the better for these individuals.