Blind man’s vision for kindness walk connects with Lebanon

A blind man in California, who’s walking to raise money for the client of a Lebanon woman, is waiting to see which of the two states can raise the most money. 

So far, he believes Oregon is in the lead.

Renee Gunselman, of Lebanon, agreed to walk the final 10 days of a 450-mile journey through the Mojave Desert from Long Beach, Calif. to Las Vegas, Nev. this month as part of the fund-raising effort for her client, who needs a service dog.

She joined her brother, Rob Hartley, and his own client, Robert F. Smith, who’s blind, on Nov. 10. It was Smith’s idea to walk the trek on behalf of Gunselman’s client.

“He’s on a quest to do a million acts of kindness in his lifetime in memory of his father who passed away,” Gunselman said of Smith.

Smith’s father is O.C. Smith, a musician whose song “Little Green Apples” was a pop hit in 1968. He was also a veteran and a minister who taught his son to love people and do acts of kindness, Robert Smith said.

Gunselman is a special needs care provider in multiple Oregon counties. Tyler Renfro, one of her clients, is a 10-year-old boy with autism, type 1 diabetes and suffers from seizures. He needs a multi-functional service dog that costs about $15,000.

Smith met the Renfro family two years ago.

“I remember sitting in the living room and hearing the kids play, and checking them out as they interacted,” Smith said. “I remember just thinking, ‘I really want to help this kid in any way I possibly can.’”

To date, Smith has raised between $4,000 and $5,000 for the dog.

“I’m just determined now,” he said. “He just really touched my heart in a positive way the first time I met him.”

In addition to raising money for Tyler’s dog, Smith is also reaching out to people with disabilities, recognizing veterans, and trying to spread the message of kindness. 

“He’s got such a kind heart. His blindness does not deter him at all,” Gunselman said.

Hartley added, “He doesn’t bleed red. He bleeds unconditional kindness.”

The walking team starts their day sometimes as early as 6:30 a.m., and finish sometimes as late as 10 p.m. 

They might walk as many as 22 miles in one day, or as little as five miles on “a day off.” 

They estimate by the end of the journey they will have walked more than 1 million steps, Hartley said.

Hartley told Gunselman to come prepared with bandanas, because the wind blows sand everywhere, but he’s confident his sister will complete the last 10 days with them with little trouble, he said. 

“I think Renee has determination, she has the right attitude toward this,” Hartley said.

Gunselman prepared for her 10-day journey by trying to walk at least five miles a day, and one day was able to tell them she’d cranked out 33,000 steps while the men were feeling pretty good that they’d done 29,000.

“I’m just so excited to get there and be a part of it, and if Tyler can get his dog, it would just be so amazing,” Gunselman said.

“When this is over, I’m probably just gonna fall on the ground and cry, just because it’s such an accomplishment for Robert. Even if the money’s not raised, what an accomplishment!” she said.

Smith would like to perform a benefit concert in the state that raises the most money for Tyler.

Anyone interested in donating can do so via one of three online routes: 

4pawsforability.org/donate-now; thekindnesswalk.org/kindness-store, and select Tyler Renfro; or gofundme.com/the-kindness-walk. 

Donors should make a note in their donation which state they’re from and that it is for Tyler Renfro through the Kindness Walk.