One Blue Springs resident’s love for his brother is inspiring him to help special-needs individuals across the area.
Eliot Huffman, age 27, is setting his sights on the Appalachian Trail in order to raise money for his newly formed non-profit, A Walk For Sam, named in honor of his 19-year-old brother. Eliot will be raising funds via pledges as he treks across the more than 2,100-mile route from Georgia to Maine early next year, with the money raised going toward Autism Concepts Incorporated, a center for children and young adults with autism to improve their communication and daily living skills where Sam attends.
Huffman was living in California in 2017, having moved there after spending four years serving in the Air Force on the East Coast, looking at travel opportunities and making the decision to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2020. When visiting his family in Blue Springs, Huffman said he realized his brother was getting bigger and his parents could use his help taking care of him, and he decided to move home.
After seeing how much ACI helped his brother grow, he kept his trip on his calendar in order to put it to good use. Huffman explained it’s difficult for districts and parents to send students with disabilities to centers such as ACI, largely because of financial costs, so his goal is to use the money raised by his trip to provide tuition.
Sam is a popular face in the community, according to Huffman, and the two can regularly be found at Sam’s favorite spot, Johnny’s Tavern. A warm greeting and a high five are prepared for anyone who walks by, and Huffman said the staff welcomes them every time.
“I have always been very blown away by how blessed Sam is to be in a community like Blue Springs,” said Huffman. “I’ve never really gotten a chance to see people interact like this in a lot of the larger cities I’ve lived in.”
The enthusiasm the community has for Sam was proven when Huffman began a GoFundMe to raise money to file A Walk For Sam as a non-profit. In the span of a week and a half, about 40 to 50 individuals donated the needed $2,000, according to Huffman.
Huffman said he plans to begin his hike in late February 2020, in order to get ahead of the crowd that traditionally embarks on the trail on March 15. Huffman said he anticipates the hike will take him five months, forcing both him and his brother to make an adjustment to being apart.
“It was never easy for me, leaving when I would come home in the military,” Huffman said. “As he (Sam) got older, he started to understand what me leaving meant and was less OK with it.”
Huffman said it takes about four people to do everything he does for his brother, which includes picking him up from ACI. Fortunately, individuals around town with a heart for Sam are already signing up to volunteer to take care of, or just spend time with him.
“That will probably be the hardest part of being on the trail (being apart), but I know it’s for a better cause, and I know there’s a lot of love for him here,” Huffman said.
To prepare for trail, which only approximately 25 percent finish each year out of the 3,000 who try, Huffman is training, bringing Sam with him to the gym and doing as much as he can to keep in peak condition.
“I don’t drive anywhere at this point; I bike everywhere unless we’re going out to Kansas City or things of that nature,” he said.
The Appalachian Trail is one of three through-hike trails in the nation, the others being the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. The Appalachian is the easiest among these, but Huffman said it’s still the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 16 times.
Those seeking to donate to A Walk For Sam can do so by reaching out to their Facebook page, or through their upcoming website, awalkforsam.com, which will be online within the next week, according to Huffman. Residents can donate through a pledge, give so much at each milestone of Huffman’s trip or donate immediately. Huffman said if residents only donated one cent per mile, it would add up to a $21 donation. His goal is to raise $100 per mile, totalling $210,000.
“The beauty of this is I’m funding my trail, I already have that figured out. This is almost zero overhead,” he explained.
Huffman said he will provide updates approximately every 200 to 250 miles, keeping everyone at home informed of his trip while saying hi to Sam.
Residents can get a head start in supporting A Walk For Sam on July 15 at Johnny’s Tavern, as the restaurant holds a “buy-back” night, sending 15 percent of sales toward the non-profit from 5 to 9 p.m..
Huffman said he plans on hiking the other through trails to raise money for different special needs organizations in the area, but for now is content getting ready for the Appalachian Trail and spending time with Sam, who he says is the best example of unconditional love he’s ever found.
“He’s always been my biggest fan. I’ve never had someone more happy to see me every day,” Huffman said. “
Upon returning after the trip, Huffman hopes to greet Sam at Johnny’s, walking in to surprise his little brother who inspired him to make it.