- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Since retiring Cliff Smith has been playing a lot of golf and working out at Shepherd University’s Wellness Center. While that has taken up some of his down time, also he wanted to do something else with his life.

“I owned my own company, ending up selling it, and since that point I’ve done nothing but irritate my wife,” Smith laughs. “So I thought, I’ve got to do something useful.”

Smith, 76, decided to walk the C&O; Canal to raise money for a local charity. In 2003, Smith’s wife, Val, started a Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children chapter, for the Eastern Panhandle region of West Virginia.

His idea to walk the canal came about because he has always thought about hiking the Appalachian Trail, but after a couple of test hikes he realized that it was not physically feasible for him. So, he tried some test walks on the canal and realized it was something he could do.

“It’s pretty comfortable and easy, it’s fairly flat all the way and you don’t have to carry a 50-pound pack with a tent, sleeping bag, mattress, cooking stove, food, etc.,” Smith said.

“CASA is a nationwide charitable organization that provides representation of children who have been brought into the judicial system as a result of abuse or neglect,” Smith said. “I will ask people to sponsor me and this cause by making donations directly to the organization.”

CASA-EP executive director Vicki Bernard says that she is overwhelmed by the generosity of Smith and his wife. “When he first told me about the idea, it brought me to tears,” Bernard said. “It chokes me up just thinking about how dedicated they are to this organization.”

Smith plans to start his journey around Sept. 26. He plans to start in Shepherdstown and walk to Georgetown, Maryland, which is about 73 miles. “I anticipate that it will take me about five days,” Smith said. “Once I am finished there, my wife is going to come pick me up and take me up to Cumberland and then I am going to spend about eight days walking from there back to Shepherdstown, all in all totaling 184.5 miles.”

Smith plans to walk 12 to 15 miles a day and will stop at local bed and breakfasts along the way to sleep. He hopes to arrive back in Shepherdstown on Oct. 10.

Bernard said the nonprofit organization starts with no money every year and that it is completely funded by fundraisers and donations. “Currently we have 47 active volunteers who take on about one to two cases at a time,” Bernard said.

She went on to explain that once CASA receives a petition from the court, a trained volunteer is assigned the child’s case, and then they dedicate their time trying to learn more about the child’s situation.

“The advocate will start by talking to anyone who surrounds that child and decipher what would be the best alternative,” Bernard said. “CASA works to help find those children a safe place to live, whether it be foster care, with another relative, etc., and once the child’s case goes to court, the advocate then represents them in court and states their decision on what they believe is best for that child.”

Bernard said the money raised by Smith’s walk will be used toward training new volunteers. “Every volunteer must go through extensive training. There are strict requirements set in place to make sure the people surrounding the child will take proper care of them,” Bernard said.

“These children have already gone through enough so we want to make sure that our volunteers will provide a safe and stable environment for them.”

Donation checks can be made out to CASA-EP, putting “C&O; walk” on the subject line, and then can be sent to or dropped off at CASA-EP 336 S. Queen St. Martinsburg, WV 25401.

“Child abuse and neglect is a difficult subject to talk about, but it is happening every day, and we are dedicated to be there for them until the end,” Bernard said. “I would encourage everyone to just look inside their hearts and help. We cannot fix everything but we can help these children and make a difference in their lives.”

To learn more about CASA-EP go to www.mycasaep.org. To follow Smith’s journey, visit www.facebook.com/casaep.

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Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/

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