Lacing up for Walk out of Poverty

Parisa Esfahani's heart swells every time she learns of Orange County residents participating in community programs focused on alleviating poverty.

A three-time participant in Concern America's Walk out of Poverty, Parisa, 18, of Costa Mesa, recalls her mother, who is "very passionate about … everything," frequently raising the topic of impoverished communities.

Eager to broaden "privileged minds and vision," Parisa, then a student at Estancia High School, introduced the initiative to members of her Advanced Placement Spanish class and the National Honor Society. Flanked by 10 like-minded classmates the first year and 20 the next, she contributed $900 per walk.

For her, being aware and generous is "simple."

"I have been very, very fortunate in my life," said Parisa, a freshman at UC Davis." I have had every advantage you can think of in this modern age, and others haven't, and that isn't fair. We are all born into and under different circumstances, and I think it is just chance that I got to be where I am."

Saturday marks the 16th annual Walk Out of Poverty, which is Santa Ana-based Concern America's largest fundraiser. Starting and ending at the Holy Spirit Church in Fountain Valley, guests are invited to walk around the Mile Square Regional Park — five miles total.

Since 1972, the nonprofit has focused on international development and refugee aid in rural areas of concern across Latin America and Africa. Once a year, individuals and groups in Orange County are asked to "grow a global heart."

"This walk gives us an opportunity to reach out to our local neighbors to talk about people we don't see, who are suffering across the world," John Straw, Concern America's executive director, said. "We try to help our community support work in other countries, to influence how we in this country are involved with people who for various reasons we're connected to, whether it's because we're human beings or because of our policies or the food we eat."

The program also spotlights communities where people walk five miles or more daily to collect water and food and work in fields, allowing Concern America to walk in solidarity with them.

Walk coordinator Teri Saydak facilitates interactive presentations at churches, schools and youth groups, earning the support of more than two dozen groups last year. Garden Grove's St. Columban School, St. Joseph Health in Irvine, Sts Simon and Jude Catholic Church, St. John Neumann Catholic Church and Marina High School in Huntington Beach, and Mater Dei High School of Santa Ana contributed to a turnout of more than 650 people.

"Among healthcare professionals, oftentimes, one doctor's office will challenge another to see who can raise the most, and so they just become really motivated to be involved with us," Straw said. "Other places, it could be a confirmation class, so this walk is part of their service to the community."

Concern America's most successful walk was last year, when $70,000 was raised.

Parisa's mother, Kathy, said she hesitated when it was time to approach friends for sponsorship. In the end, she trusted her instincts that they too want to make a dent in global poverty.

"We, who care about the poor, need to have a broader approach so we can recognize issues close at hand and also those that are far away, and know that we can do something about both," said Kathy, 53, of Costa Mesa. "The needs are so great in the Third World that they can't be ignored, and we need to do all we can."

For Beth McPherson, vice president of mission integration at St. Joseph Health, the walk is an easy sell because Concern America and Saturday's program lend themselves to enhancing the dignity of people so they can reach their full potential and contribute to the common good.

"What's nice is that we have a focus on wellness, and we can invite people to walk and support a great organization and goal while also building wellness," she said. "It's a nice tie-in."

Along with sponsoring craft sales, aiding the construction of clinics and donating a truck for work in Guatemala, 30 St. Joseph employees raised $5,000 in 2012. McPherson, who will also show her support, estimates that more than 40 will be present this year.

"We all like to be inspired by others, and it helps us to do a little bit more," she said. "Inspiration is sometimes lacking in our lives and in society. It feels good to be able to participate in something greater than ourselves.

Like McPherson, Straw encouraged people to take a peek at their clothes' tags — a majority of which are manufactured and imported from other countries — further proof of the interconnectedness of today's society.

"When individuals or youth raise $75 or $100, it doesn't seem like a lot, but it adds up pretty quickly," Straw said. "What collective effort can do, both monetarily and in terms of understanding, is pretty amazing."

Twitter: @RMahbubani

If You Go

What: Concern America's Walk Out of Poverty

Where: Holy Spirit Church, 17270 Ward St., Fountain Valley

When: Saturday, March 23; registration is from 6:45 to 7: 30 a.m.; the walk begins at 7:30 a.m.

Cost: Free

Information: or contact Teri Saydak at or call (714) 953-8575

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