Pittsburgh man takes one step at a time for youth in need

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Gary Agate poses on the public dock at the end of Calhoun Street, near Bluffton Oyster Factory, when walking through Bluffton in late October. Agate is on a 1,200-mile walk from Pittsburgh to Orlando to raise funds for a youth services agency in Pitcairn,

Gary Agate is a man on a mission, and he's a long way from home accomplishing it.

The Forrest Gump of Pittsburgh, as he is affectionately known, began walking from his home near the Iron City on Labor Day en route to Orlando, the destination he plans to reach in a couple of weeks.

That's 1,280 miles in a pair of Altra footwear, if one is counting.

Agate veered off Routes 17 and 170 last week and spent about 36 hours in Bluffton.

When he gets back home, he hopes to put the money from his fundraising goal of $100,000 into the operating budget of PitCare Inc., a faith-based nonprofit organization that services disadvantaged youth and families in Pitcairn, Pa., a historical railroad town of about 3,600.

Agate co-founded the organization in 2014 and serves as president and director of the group that lists 462 active volunteers on its team of givers.

"The concept of what I'm doing is 'step by step,'" said Agate, 68, a father of seven and grandfather of 21. "When you do something small, it's amazing how big it becomes. All you need are shoes, if you think about it."

He's taking about 3 million steps in those shoes.

"Even though I've never been an athlete, I believed in my heart I could do this," said Agate, who retired as the director of operations at a large dairy company in western Pennsylvania. "I have a mission here. ... I tell these kids you can walk to get a job until you have money to get a car. If I can walk 1,200 miles, you can walk two. I have that pushing me."

Here are the details of his walk: He gets his 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame up and out before daybreak, after a bowl of oatmeal, and covers about 22 miles at 4 mph for most of the day, except for a half-day break midweek and Sunday - his day off to attend church somewhere along his route.

He consumes 4,000 calories daily and hasn't lost a pound since he began his journey. He takes sideroads that parallel major highways, has blinking lights on his vest and a 3-pound backpack for health essentials, wears a bandana, and never plugs in to technology.

The only thing he's plugged into is his solitary mental zone. No music, no outside distractions. It's clarity of mind and pavement.

He's a man on a mission for the youth, the families and his struggling community.

Bluffton Sun publisher Kevin Aylmer invited Agate and his one-person, on-the-road support team of Jeff Owen (driving an RV) to spend some time in Bluffton. Aylmer's longtime best friend from his native Pittsburgh told him about Agate's crusade.

"If we have the benefit of this tour come through Bluffton, I think we share with our readers, 'Hey, this is one guy who's making a point to young adults he's working with - you just need to work at it and stick with it,'" Aylmer said. "We are blessed to have this walk tour come through Bluffton, and we want (our readers) to know about it."

Most of the money raised will help sustain a library that PitCare built last year because the town had never had one, and to keep a food pantry well stocked.

Pitcairn is needy. It's impoverished and rooted with primarily lower-class Americans. Kids look for love and adult guidance outside their broken homes.

Agate left his comfortable townhouse lifestyle with his wife Carol and paid $28,000 for a home in Pitcairn to immerse themselves in the underserved community.

"The secret and genius of this thing is when Gary moved in," said Owen, PitCare's executive director and a managing partner in a Pittsburgh law firm. "Gary has become a father to the fatherless in a lot of ways. Gary's always present in their lives."

Owen and his wife moved into Pitcairn a year after the Agates did, and now the couples host a weekly dinner for 25 to 30 kids in the neighborhood.

"Since we've moved in, we've become neighbors with them," Owen said. "We've seen them at their best and their worst."

For more information about Agate's mission and PitCare, visit PitCare.org, call 412-444-8506 or find them on Facebook.

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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