Retired doctor goes on 2,500-mile kayak trek for nonprofit

Deb Walters, a 63-year-old retired doctor, set out on a 2,500-mile solo kayak expedition from Maine to Guatemala to raise funds and awareness for Safe Passage.

Retired doctor goes on 2,500-mile kayak trek for nonprofit

Client: Safe Passage (Yarmouth, Maine)
Agency: Broadreach Public Relations (Portland, Maine)
Campaign: Kayak For Safe Passage Kids
Duration: June 11, 2014 - May 2015
Budget: pro bono ($59,000 worth of services)

Safe Passage is a Maine-based nonprofit that provides numerous programs for children and families living in extreme poverty around Guatemala City’s garbage dump.

On July 13 Deb Walters, a 63-year-old retired doctor of neurocommunications who formerly served as president of the board of directors of Safe Passage and VP of Unity College, set out on a 2,500-mile solo kayak expedition from Maine to Guatemala to raise funds and awareness for Safe Passage.

Broadreach Public Relations worked on a pro bono basis to drive international awareness.

"Safe Passage doesn’t receive government support, so…raising broad awareness is extremely important," explains Richard Howe, president of the board of directors. "Deb’s journey provides a great opportunity to do that."

Messaging highlighting Walters’ extraordinary undertaking and stressing the significant need in Guatemala is being driven through events, media relations,, and social media engagement. 

Reporters and editors covering women’s interest, the outdoors, Hispanic interest, and education at national and international outlets are targeted. Key adventure, outdoor, and kayaking gear bloggers are also pitched.

Agency president Linda Varrell says Walters works closely with local Rotary Club members to schedule speaking events and media coverage in smaller towns along her route. The agency coordinates coverage in major cities.

A soft launch for local media, sponsors, and other Safe Passage supporters was held at the boat launch facility in Yarmouth, Maine, on July 11.

An official launch event followed on July 13 at the Eastern Promenade Beach in Portland, Maine. Representatives from Safe Passage and sponsor companies spoke to media, local officials, and the public about Walters’ journey and the nonprofit’s work.

Attendees were invited to paddle from Portland to Cape Elizabeth, Maine, with Walters and encouraged to share event images and messages with their social media followers.

The agency helped secure about 45 sponsors, including map maker DeLorme, Chesapeake’s Light Craft, and LL Bean. DeLorme built a website to track Walters’ progress.

Volunteers created a dedicated microsite in April.

The agency contributes content to the microsite and to an expedition-related Facebook page that Walters created. Walters also created and maintains a related blog.

Information about donating on the microsite was issued in a July 22 press release and posted to social media channels.

As of early November, $86,688 had been raised (58% of the $150,000 goal).

"We often get support from big sponsors after they visit the project in Guatemala," Howe notes. "The awareness raised by this campaign will likely draw visits and that can result in a lot more than $150,000." 

Varrell says DeLorme’s website gets 5,000 monthly hits and has been one of the company’s most popular map-share sites.

July page views of the expedition microsite increased 675% over June. It had 6,125 page views between June 1 and November 11.

Page views on Walters' blog increased from 1,083 in June to 5,187 in September. Expedition Facebook page likes jumped from 210 in July to 660 in mid-November.

About 650 stories were placed as of mid-November in outlets such as USA Today, Telemundo, Univision, NBC News, Al Jazeera, Bangor Daily News, and Portland Press Herald.

The agency continues to conduct media outreach and contribute social media content.

Walters is expected to complete her journey in May. She’s currently working on increasing blog posts and building out a storyline around a rubber duck (petito amistoso) given to her by children in Guatemala that’s traveling with her.

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