17 Nov N.J. teen to run marathon to support homeless veterans across the country
A teenager from Hunterdon County is willing to go the distance for our nation’s veterans — and it’s not a short task.
Michael Ferrara, a 17-year-old resident of Ringoes, has launched an online fundraiser to support his run in the virtual Marine Corps Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 25. All funds will be donated to the Houses for Warriors, a nonprofit organization that houses and improves the quality of life for disabled veterans.
While the marathon was originally scheduled to be held in Arlington, Virginia, it has switched to a virtual format in light of the coronavirus pandemic. This means Ferrara will track his time, pace and distance using a digital watchand send a screenshot of his results to the website of the Marine Corps Marathon.
This weekend, Ferrara will run the 26.2 miles from Sandy Hook to Spring Lake alongside Team RWB (Red, White and Blue).
“Team RWB is a running team that supports the veterans,” Ferrara said. “They try to make sure to get the name out that the veterans really are out there to support us, to support the country … and when they run they carry flags to show their patriotism.”
As of Monday, Ferrara had raised more than $3,500 for Houses for Warriors. These funds will help the organization foot the bill for converting an 86,000-square-foot facility in Denver into a transitional housing and vocational training facility for homeless veterans.
Should the project move forward, Houses for Warriors will build a memorial outside of the facility using bricks on which the names of the development’s founding members will be engraved.
Ferrara is hoping to raise at least $4,000 so his own name and those of three veterans that are particularly close to him can adorn the memorial.
“If we hit my current goal of $4,000, I’m going to dedicate three of the four bricks to two of my grandparents and my uncle,” Ferrara said. “My uncle was in the Marines, my one grandfather on my dad’s side was in the Navy, and my other grandfather on my mom’s side is in the Army.”
Ferrara’s fundraising efforts have been so impressive that Houses for Warriors began a #fundraisinghero monthly initiative to shine a light on his contributions and encourage others to take action.
“If I had 100 more people like Michael today, we would have that building tomorrow,” Andrew Canales, an Iraq War veteran and the CEO of Houses for Warriors, said.
Canales said veterans are fives times more likely to commit suicide if they’re homeless.
“That’s only for (35% of) the veterans that exist. We actually can’t account for the other half that aren’t in the VA health care system,” Canales said.
Ferrara said his deeply felt patriotism inspired him to raise money for Houses for Warriors.
“The reason that I’m able to run and the reason that people are able to do what they do everyday is because of the veterans. And it’s not fair to the veterans that they end up in the situation that they’re in — ending up homeless,” the teen said.
According to Canales, Ferrara and his father are the first Houses for Warriors representatives on the East Coast.
“It’s been really great, because most of our support comes from Colorado, and this is going to be a national program,” Canales said. “Veterans from all over the country are going to be able to apply to fly out to Colorado and spend three, six, nine months to accomplish their personal goals.”
Beyond his support for this nonprofit, Ferrara also serves as the president of Hunterdon Central Regional High School’s Student Soldier Support Club, which he said has orchestrated multiple clothing and food collections for soldiers currently enrolled in combat.
“My freshman year, I emailed the teacher that runs the club and he said all the seniors left; there’s nobody in the club. So I restarted it,” Ferrara said. “I think it’s awesome that people are out there fighting for everybody’s freedom.”
Post-high school, Ferrara will seek to enroll in a military academy to follow the example of the heroes he so admires.
“I feel that I do my best with discipline and structure,” Ferrara said. “Also, it would be a privilege to receive an education and serve the country at the same time.”
“His experience and his family experience and his goals for his life … it truly is inspiring to see how much he is involved,” Canales said.
Reflecting upon one of his more immediate goals, Ferrara assured that he been consistently training for the Marine Corps Marathon in hopes of completing the run within 3 hours and 45 minutes.
“I follow a 16-week training program, and I train for the training program, but the goal of the program is to build up your weekly mileage — up to 45 miles a week,” Ferrara said.
Still, this won’t be Ferrara’s first time around — or, more accurately, off — the track. Amongst his many accomplishments, the teenager ran in the Philadelphia Marathon in Nov. 2019, and completed a 50K ultramarathon in Rockaway in August.
While saying he participates in these challenging events because he enjoys “pushing myself,” Ferrara emphasized that the 26.2 miles will not be run for himself, but for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for his life and a countless number of others.
“I picked out Houses for Warriors because it’s sad that these veterans give up everything … So I’m trying to help out any way I can to make that right,” Ferrara said.
Individuals can support Ferrara’s run and the Houses for Warriors organization by making an online donation.
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Caroline Fassett may be reached at [email protected]