Walking for Warmth at the Palace


Managing Editor

Freezing to death isn’t just a saying anymore; it has become a reality and the subject of several headlines in metro Detroit.

“A lot of people are having to choose between heating their homes or eating,” said Dan Evola, Oakland University’s student body president.

Evola is also a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a fraternity that has required its members to participate in the Walk for Warmth as its “True Gentlemen Day of Service.” This will be SAE’s first year participating in the 19th annual Walk for Warmth, which raises funds for Oakland County residents who cannot pay their heating bills. The walk will be held at the Palace of Auburn Hills this Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m.

According to Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency, the organization that hosts the walk, Michigan households are projected to spend $470 more on natural gas heating costs this year than last year.

“What we are hearing from many people is a sad but brave fact: They have never had to ask for help before, but due to recent trends in the economy, which is affecting everything, that is rapidly changing,” said Ron Borngesser, chief executive officer at OLHSA. “They are finding the courage to ask for help to keep their homes warm, because they cannot do it themselves.”

SAE alumni and founding father Lon Bone suggested the fraternity participate in the Walk for Warmth as part of its philanthropic efforts.

“I think it’s great that young people get involved in helping communities,” Bone said.

To raise money for the cause, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is selling plush penguins with logos that read “Warm a heart, heat a home” for $10. According to Chris Cerrini, president of SAE, every brother has been asked to sell at least five penguins with a goal of raising $2,000 for Walk for Warmth.

“We wanted to help out our [alumnus] member, and our chapter liked the idea of helping people in surrounding counties,” Cerrini said.

Bone works for Genisys Credit Union, which is where he heard about the walk.

“We at Genisys Credit Union have been with Walk for Warmth since day one,” Bone said. “The majority of the people going through the program only need help once … that’s the key … I’ve known several people that have used the program; it’s got them through the tough times that they’ve had.”

Adela Knedlik, assistant director for public relations at OLHSA, said the program has seen more first-time callers so far this year than ever before.

“We consider the Walk for Warmth a way to give our neighbors a hand up, not a hand out. The participants are not assisted two years in a row; usually, they come to us because one single thing has caused them to get behind and they need to ask for help.

Knedlik said that OLHSA refers all of their Walk for Warmth clients to its weatherization program.

“In a lot of cases, weatherizing a home can cut energy bills by as much as 60 percent,” Knedlik said. OLHSA Housing and Energy staff will be giving green tips and ways to weatherize homes at the walk.

OLHSA hopes to raise $160,000 at the event — the amount raised last year, which helped 1,082 Oakland County residents in 383 houses according to a news release. Knedlik said they have helped heat an estimated 10,000 homes in Oakland and Livingston counties over 19 years.

The fraternity is just one of several organizations, businesses and even bands that are stepping up for the cause. Along with a DJ, there will be performances by The Strangers (a local cover band consisting of all OU alumni) and the Sunshine Cadavers (who describe themselves as jazz/experimental/progressive on MySpace.com/sunshinecadavers).

Registration for the walk will begin at 9 a.m. with a kick-off including a performance by Southwestern High School JROTC Color Guard at 9:15 a.m. The route is the concourse of the Palace with bands and entertainers along the way. A light breakfast and coffee will also be served. One hundred percent of the funds raised will be donated, but there is no minimum donation required to attend the event.

A Walk for Warmth to benefit residents of Livingston County will be held Saturday, Feb. 14 from 9-11 a.m. at the Hartland Educational Support Service Center in Howell. For information visit www.olhsa.org/walk4warmth.

— Katie Wolf contributed to this report