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Published: Saturday, 2/27/2010

His boots are made for helping

Some people turn up the heat in their house, then grumble when the heating bill goes up. Jimmy Wayne turned up his thermostat and started a movement.

Most country music fans know Wayne for such hits as "Stay Gone," "I Love You This Much," and "Do You Believe Me Now," but the artist has touched thousands of others with his charity work.

A giving spirit was instilled in him by Russell and Bea Costner, who adopted him after he bounced around foster homes for most of his early life. Sometimes foster homes aren't the best places to be, and Jimmy spent most of his time running away - until there was nowhere to run, and he landed on the streets. Sometimes kids in the system get too old, and with no more homes to go to or families to provide them with an education, they too end up on the streets.

So earlier this winter, when Wayne walked over to his thermostat, a funny thing happened.

"This guilty feeling came over me," Wayne says. "Here I am living life. I'm comfortable. I'd been on the Brad Paisley tour for a lot of the year, and I just didn't feel like I'd done anything to make a difference. I got to thinking, and I said, 'What if I walk halfway across the country to raise awareness [about homeless teens and young adults who age out of the foster care system]?'"

He called a news conference, named his campaign Meet Me Halfway, and took off from Nashville on Jan.1, barely giving his label notice because he "didn't want to be talked out of it."

The plan was to make it to HomeBase Youth Services in Phoenix - about 1,700 miles - in 2 1/2 months. That time frame isn't going to happen. He's walked about 600 miles; his feet are killing him, and his progress has been slowed by snow and ice storms.

But the weather has improved, and every morning by 8, he slips on his back pack and hiking boots, straps a canteen over his shoulders, and heads up the road until the sun sets.

"The amount of hospitality has been amazing. People will come out and offer me food or a cup of coffee," he says. "One family I met lives on a ranch in Caddo Gap, Ark. They gave me a place to stay for three nights. I had my clothes stolen from the [support vehicle]. They found out about it and came back and got me and bought me a pair of overalls. We'll be friends forever."

Another woman works in a lunch line at a school. She lives in a mobile home, yet has taken in 10 foster kids over the years. "Just proves you don't need to live in a mansion to help," Wayne says.

Proceeds from his walk will go to HomeBase to help some of the kids get off the streets.

So whether it takes four months, six months, or a year, Jimmy Wayne will be slipping on his boots and walking up the road.

"I am still excited because I'm raising awareness for something I believe in. It's a new experience every day."

To follow Wayne's progress, go to meetmehalfway.jimmywayne.com.

Brian Dugger's column on country music appears the last Saturday of the month.

Contact him at bdugger@theblade.com.



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