Prosecutor's big swim to aid Kennewick teen shelter

KENNEWICK -- Andy Miller may be having second thoughts about his pledge to swim the Columbia River today from Richland to Kennewick.

But in the week since he announced that he would do the open water swim to raise money for My Friends Place -- a soon-to-open teen homeless shelter in Kennewick -- the Benton County prosecutor has told about a thousand people of his plans and received $1,000 in donations.

Miller realizes he can't back out now, so at 3 p.m. he will start out from the Howard Amon Park dock and head down river to the Edison Street boat launch. He has been told it is about four to five miles, maybe even six, and will take at least two hours.

And he is ready.

"I'm feeling good," Miller said Wednesday afternoon.

A long-distance swimmer, runner and bicyclist, Miller had been training for six months to do a 10k swim race in Coeur d'Alene last month. The intensity of that race is the equivalent of a marathon run, he said.

Then two weeks before the race, Miller had unexpected surgery for an infected gall bladder and was forced to miss the race, which put him into a funk.

"I was more depressed than upset. I was depressed because it had been something I'd been working on for a long time," he said.

To shake off the blues, Miller thought he would do his own marathon swim before the river gets cold. He made it official Sept. 15 with a Facebook post.

"I decided to turn it into kind of a fun swim and raise money for that organization at the same time," he said.

My Friends Place will be a drop-in overnight shelter for teens ages 13 to 17.

The nonprofit formed a partnership with Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery to open the shelter in a building formerly occupied by EPIC. Safe Harbor is leasing the 1111 N. Grant Place building, where up to 16 teens can stay at night but will have to leave during the day.

Christy Rasmussen, a My Friends Place board member and principal at New Horizons High School, said it is now becoming a reality with the site opening in the next week for dinner drop-ins.

She was excited when Miller told her of his plans because the shelter is trying to raise operating money and get volunteers so it can be fully opened in November.

"Isn't that amazing that someone would do that for a shelter?" Rasmussen asked. "We feel very blessed that he is kind of a patron of ours in that matter and I think perhaps the most important thing is that he, like so many of us in the community, recognize the need for a shelter for our youth."

"A lot of people don't understand how many youth are out there with no place to go," she added. "Whenever there's nowhere for children to go at night that's safe, that's when bad things start happening in our community."

Miller said he is "a little bit worried" that the swim may last more than two hours because he is not in the same shape he was in before the gall bladder attack. But he has been in the Columbia River a few times since his surgery and said the water temperature Monday was great because he will not be wearing a wetsuit.

No one else is planning to swim along with Miller, though he said he would welcome others. He has friends who will travel alongside in a boat and a kayak.

Miller said he has found that people have been "very generous" through his fundraising efforts, with fellow Rotarians collecting about $400 after he made a recent pitch to the Columbia Center Rotary Club.

Miller said he will be turning the checks in to My Friends Place next week.

Donations also can be made through Facebook's Causes site at http://bit.ly/millerswim.

The organization's website is myfriendsplace.info.