Sgt. Tracey Schofield had mixed feelings when the Rotary Club named him Pinellas Park's employee of the year last spring.
Schofield was flattered, but he also did not quite feel he deserved it. So he went out to earn it — retroactively — by creating a charity that has already raised about $22,000 for children and the homeless and will send him on an almost 200-mile trek across Florida on foot.
"Since I didn't think I'd done enough to earn it (I decided to become) an ambassador for the award," Schofield said Tuesday. Schofield, 44, has worked for the Pinellas Park Police Department since 1989.
Schofield got the idea for his project, the Walk for Hope Charity, while on his daily stroll. He thought he'd walk from one end of Pinellas County to the other and collect money for the Pinellas Park Boys and Girls Club and Pinellas Hope, a homeless shelter on the edge of the city. But three hours later, when he'd finished his walk, the idea had expanded to walking across the width of Florida's peninsula. He would hold fundraisers in advance that would benefit both charities.
When he got home, Schofield told his wife, Lisa, and his children.
"Of course they thought I was crazy," he said. But they agreed to help.
Then he broached the idea to Dorene Thomas, his chief. She also supported the idea. He got help from a fellow police officer to create his Web site, thewalkforhope.com.
That was last April. Since then, Schofield has logged about 1,200 miles and is on his fourth set of walking shoes from his daily training treks near his St. Petersburg home. He got a scenery change during his family vacation in Wyoming, where he walked parts of the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole.
He walks 48 to 52 miles a week during training but expects to do about 24 miles a day during his seven-day trek from Pinellas Park to Fort Pierce. Schofield tried a 24-mile jaunt over the weekend.
"Your feet get sore. Your knees get sore. Your hips get sore," he said. "It's not bad. It's bearable."
Still, Schofield expects some pain. He also expects to see a lot of the sights during the main part of his route along State Road 70. He has already seen a few while scouting his route — construction, pigs, dead alligators. And cows. Lots of cows.
"There's a lot of wildlife I'm sure I'm going to see," he said.
His wife, Lisa, will drive with him, giving him water and peanut butter sandwiches as needed. And, he'll have other company on parts of the trip. Kids from the Pinellas Park Boys and Girls Club will walk the first mile with him Dec. 13 and kids from the Fort Pierce Boys and Girls Club are scheduled to walk the last mile Dec. 19. In between, some of the volunteers from Pinellas Park's mounted horse patrol plan to join him.
"Anything to break up staring at cows," Schofield joked.
Not only has Schofield physically trained, he has done a lot of fundraising including sitting in front of a Publix and the theaters at the Shoppes at Park Place asking for donations. A local car dealer has also donated a 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier that can be raffled off. Tickets cost $10 each.
So far, Schofield has raised about $22,000, causing some to ask why he's bothering to walk when he already has money to give to the charities.
The promise was the walk, he said. That's why people donated, so "talking's over. It's time to walk," he said. "I represented everybody that ever gave me a dollar."
Schofield said this is his first and last such walk. He plans to close the Walk for Hope Charity after the end of the year. Instead, he wants to open an entirely new charity devoted to helping Pinellas Park kids in need. The way he envisions it, the charity, Police and Kids, will enable officers to immediately help children in need. If an officer goes to a call and finds a baby that needs formula or diapers, for example, the officer can go buy what's needed and turn the receipt in to the charity for reimbursement.
Police and Kids would also pay to help those who could not afford to attend programs at the Boys and Girls Club and give an annual scholarship to one student in the criminal justice program at Pinellas Park High School.
"That's the goal," Schofield said.
Reach Anne Lindberg at email@example.com or (727) 893-8450.