Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Wescott, goat still hoofing it across U.S.

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE WESCOTT - Steve Wescott adn LeeRoy the goat near Kansas City, Mo., on Jan. 12.Nearly two years into his 3,100-mile walk across America with companion “LeeRoy” the goat, Steve Wescott said the trek has been eye-opening.

“We’ve walked 2,500 miles, and stopped in Kansas City, Mo., for the winter. It’s been nothing short of wild and amazing and completely unexpected. What I expected didn’t happen, and 10 times cooler things happened,” Wescott said while visiting Central Oregon during his winter break.

Wanting to do something more meaningful with his life, the former Christian rock guitarist quit the tour circuit and started his walk May 2, 2012, to raise funds for the Uzima Outreach and Intervention orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, run by his best friend Stephen Turner.

Intending to walk from the Seattle Space Needle in his city of residence, to Times Square in New York City, Wescott named the walk needle2square, and with the help of his friend Irene, created a website of the same name, where people could follow his adventures.

Wanting a walking companion, he got LeeRoy Brown from a goat rescue organization, and they instantly bonded. Plus, the goat became the darling of the media and the public, which drew much more attention to his cause.

“People either love or hate it. Some say, `Why are you doing that to a goat?’ or `Why are you helping Kenyans instead of Americans?’” Wescott related.

The pair have been featured in newspapers in Berlin and Hong Kong, their story was picked up by the AP wire in the U.S., and by the CNN TV channel.

“When that happened (CNN) everything turned. After the broadcast, I had 50 phone messages, and lots in my email and Facebook. Now, we have 6,000 followers,” he said of his Facebook and blog.

He said some followers get mad if he doesn’t blog or post a photo of LeeRoy every day. “LeeRoy has fans, I have critics,” he laughed, adding, “Everybody knows LeeRoy’s name. I’m just the goat guy.”

By the time they reached Kansas City, Mo., people were on the lookout for them. “It took us eight hours to walk two miles. At this one parking lot, it was like a drive-through. People were lined up in cars, would talk to me, give me $5 and drive off,” he said incredulously.

They had heard that, during that stretch, Wescott was trying to raise $5 from 5,000 people to benefit the orphanage.

Wescott has picked a theme for each year of the walk. Last year it was “Never Say No,” which meant he wouldn’t refuse people’s requests. As a result, besides his regular church speaking engagements, he and LeeRoy appeared in a town parade, a cancer walk, visited a senior center, went to someone’s family reunion, and attended a neighborhood barbecue.

He has given motivational talks at schools, shared his faith at churches, and given presentations to 4-H groups on pack goats and goat care. “You kind of have to be a Swiss Army knife with content,” he laughed.

He has no set timeline, and will stop and talk to anyone interested in the Uzima orphanage project. They have logged anywhere from 4 to 20 miles a day, and once or twice, when LeeRoy balked and refused to walk, have taken a day off.

The orphanage

Today, Uzima orphanage is providing a home for 35 kids rescued from the streets of Nairobi, and in a separate project, has an adult rehabilitation facility where the clients also work, caring for chickens and selling eggs.

Expenses for the orphanage run about $5,000 per month for clothing, medical checkups, food, and electricity. “We have some individuals who solely contribute to the orphanage, which amounts to $1,500-$2,000 a month,” Westcott said, which still leaves a big bill to pay.

Even so, Westcott said, “The money I raise is not for the monthly costs. I’m walking to buy property so we can be self-sufficient. Buying a farm is the ultimate dream.”

Uzima recently moved from a tin building with a dirt floor into a building with a concrete floor and electricity. “It’s in a suburb area, not in the slums of Nairobi, and is much safer,” he said. It has a staff of 13, including a caseworkers and houseparents, the majority of whom are volunteers.

“The need is so great there, and there are so many orphans – so we feed them,” he said of the meals Uzima offers the kids it doesn’t have room for. “They come to eat and play, then at the end of the day go back out to the streets,” Wescott said.

“My heart breaks because of what’s going on there, but I don’t let that discourage me. My job is to use the goat to feed those kids and give them a future,” he said of LeeRoy’s popularity.

Some people seem to care more about the goat than the orphans, he observed. “I can post a story about the kids on Facebook and it will get 30 likes. But if I post a photo of the goat eating a granola bar, it will get 500 likes, and I’ve had to accept that,” Wescott said.

“The reality is there are thousands of orphanages, and people are almost desensitized to it. But LeeRoy makes ours stand out. The goat’s my best friend and the reason these kids are going to have a home. It’s not me – it’s the goat,” he said.

With that in mind, Wescott knows there’s a short window of opportunity between now and the end of his excursion with LeeRoy to do as much as he can to help Uzima. “The clock is ticking and eventually I’ll be there,” he commented.

His needle2square campaign has grown far beyond his expectations. He now has a personal assistant to schedule speaking engagements, and a board of directors to help him make decisions.

Book publishers have contacted him, a documentary is being done on the walk, and Wescott is trying to make a viral video with a dance team in Kansas City.

“I’m not a good dancer, so it will be me and the goat having a dance-off with the dance team, and we’re trying to make it funny enough so it will go viral,” he laughed.

In February, Wescott will travel to Africa to see the orphanage in person for the first time. He will spend time with the kids at the orphanage, is scheduled to do a lot of speaking, will do a Podcast from there, and do a lot of videotaping.

“Now, I feel more like the leader of a movement with people who follow me. Feb. 4, I’m going to Africa to see the kids. I put out a signup list for things I needed to take over for the kids, and the list was filled within a week,” he said of his Facebook followers.

Wescott really appreciates those who make donations to the Uzuma project and tries to thank them with personal calls when possible.

“I’ve been communicating with two ladies who are goat raisers – one in New York and one in New Jersey – who will walk with me into Times Square with their goats! When I started, I envisioned me and a few friends walking into Times Square. Now, it’s turned into a goat parade; we might be 50 strong!” he marveled.

Meanwhile, during their winter break, LeeRoy has been relaxing in Kansas at the farm of a lady who teaches dressage riding and has horses and goats. She volunteered to look after LeeRoy and put a webcam in the barn so Wescott can see what he’s up to.

“I wanted him to be pampered, like he was at a goat spa, and stay social with people and not be alone,” Wescott said of his animal friend.

With speaking events and the trip to Africa, Wescott has been just as busy during his “break” as he was before. Last week, he drove from Seattle to speak at the Desert Song Church in Redmond, to a youth group at the Christian Life Center in Bend, and was interviewed at the Pioneer.

Mulling over a theme for this year’s walk, he suggested, “Maybe `Be a Good Leader.’ Now, it’s about being a good steward of the platform I have.”

“I’ll go as soon as the weather changes,” he said about picking up LeeRoy for the second half of their walk.

“If we could get to New York this Christmas it would be really great, and I’m going to do my best to make that happen,” Wescott said.

To follow Wescott and LeeRoy visit www.needle2square.com, needle2square.blogspot.com, and visit their Facebook page. See photos and learn more about Uzima orphanage at uzimaoutreach.org.




Local Weather

Cloudy

49°F

Madras

Cloudy

Humidity: 64%

Wind: 5 mph

  • 17 Apr 2014

    Showers Early 52°F 35°F

  • 18 Apr 2014

    Mostly Sunny 61°F 35°F