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SUNSHINE COMMUNITY GETS READY TO WALK, RUN, ROLL

Brother’s hike for sibling hasn’t stopped

Jeff Alt stepped off fund-raiser with 1998 trek on Appalachian Trail

Jeff Alt is an accomplished outdoorsman who hiked the entire 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail. But he’s also a devoted big brother, and he stopped by Sunshine Communities for a “hootenanny” Thursday to spend time with his brother Aaron, who has cerebral palsy.

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Jeff Alt, outdoorsman, author, and speech pathologist, left, and his brother Aaron Alt joke at Sunshine Communities in Monclova Township during a ‘hootenanny.’ Jeff Alt raised funds for Sunshine’s first Walk, Run & Rolls 18 years ago. The 19th is set for Sept. 10.

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At Sunshine’s main complex in Monclova Township, 79 people — adults and children with a range of developmental disabilities — live on the grounds and partake in its vocational and recreational activities. Its Thursday “hootenannies” — where, last week, nearly 40 residents came together to laugh and dance and play music — are indicative of its other efforts.

Sunshine is innovative with, among other things, a safe and accessible swimming pool, an art room, a barn for residents to ride horses and play with animals, and a greenhouse.

Much of its budget for these nonmedical amenities comes from the annual Sunshine Walk, Run, and Roll, a fund-raiser that began 18 years ago when Jeff Alt hiked the Appalachian Trail.

“In 1998, I graduated with my master’s, and my dream and goal was to hike the Appalachian Trail,” Jeff Alt said. “Aaron may have similar aspirations, but he can’t communicate them. I said, how about walking for Sunshine?”

With that in mind, Jeff Alt helped bring together nearly 75 friends, family members, and volunteers at Wildwood Preserve Metropark to raise money for Sunshine. From somewhere between Georgia and Maine, he called the participants to wish them his best — and almost every year since he has come from his home near Cincinnati to host.

The event is particularly special because Sunshine’s residents take part too. Everyone is included: People bring pets, children can go on a scavenger hunt, and Toledo Roadrunners keep time for anyone who wants to run the 5-kilometer course competitively.

“It’s probably the only day they can meet people from the greater community,” Jeff Alt said of the residents’ inclusion in the walk.

Aaron Alt, now 43, has been at Sunshine since he was a teenager. He is unable to control his movements or communicate verbally. Jeff Alt said he and his other three siblings all helped take care of their brother when they were growing up, but this got harder as he grew and moving his wheelchair became more difficult. According to Jeff Alt, Sunshine has totally transformed his brother’s “quality of life.”

Aside from Jeff Alt’s philanthropic efforts, he splits his time between working as a speech pathologist at a school, giving talks about his time on the trail, and writing books.

“People would come up to me after I spoke and say, ‘You tell different stories every time.’” Jeff Alt said.

That gave him the idea to combine his experiences into a book, A Walk for Sunshine. His favorite story: A skunk crawled between his legs during his second night on the trail, but luckily, the skunk didn’t spray its nasty odor anywhere near him.

The two brothers were only reunited for a few days, since the rest of Jeff Alt’s summer is busy with trips to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the setting of the second book in his children’s series, The Adventures of Bubba Jones. But Sunshine can expect to see Jeff Alt at September’s fund-raiser.

“There’s an energy, a happiness to it,” he said about the walk. “There’s a euphoria to being out in nature.”

Set for Sept. 10, the 19th Annual Walk, Run, and Roll begins at Monclova Elementary School. Preregistration ends Aug. 20 and costs $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12. The run starts at 8:30 a.m., and the walk and roll begins at 10:30 a.m.

Contact Gabby Deutch at: gdeutch@theblade.com, 419-724-6050, or on Twitter @GSDeutch.

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