There are many ways to celebrate a milestone birthday, and when considering what to do for her 80th this year, Ottawa philanthropist Betty Hope Gittens decided to forge a new path entirely. It’s a path that will see Betty spending five weeks walking the Camino de Santiago—a 800 km pilgrim’s route through Spain that dates from medieval times—and she’s doing it all for charity.
Betty has been giving back to the Ottawa community for the past 35 years, and when she is not volunteering her time with Ottawa’s Eldercare Foundation, which enhances the lives of seniors living in not-for-profit long-term care, she can be found putting her Fitbit tracker to the test.
“I am a walker, and have been walking for the last 45 years,” notes Betty. “I walk six days a week, except Sundays, and I always do more than ten thousand steps because these boots are made for walking,” she says with a laugh.
It was on one of those Sundays off that Betty realized she could combine her two loves—walking and charity—to help change lives for the better.
“I had never heard of the Camino de Santiago until I sat in church listening to my minister, The Reverend Dr. Anthony Bailey, speaking about his own decision to walk the Camino,” says Betty. “I thought I can’t do a lot of things, but I can walk, and maybe people will sponsor me per kilometre so that I can help seniors in need.”
When Betty announced her decision to walk the Camino, she told friends and family that she intended to raise $130,000. This would allow her to give $10,000 to each of the thirteen non-profit long-term care homes supported by the Eldercare Foundation in the Ottawa area. Since that time, she has added one more facility—this one in her native Barbados—and she has already raised almost $95,000 towards her intended target.
“So many older people fall through the cracks, and I am just grateful that I can do something to help those who are less fortunate,” she says.
“My family thinks I’m crazy, but I have a calling and I’m forging ahead,” Betty concludes cheerfully. “God has given me the direction and the strength, and I am not afraid—age has nothing to do with it. I’ll just be thinking of how much money I can raise for seniors, how much more I can do.”
For more information, please visit: eldercarefoundation.ca/bettys-walk.