What could be better than hiking for three days through the Galilee, going to bed in a hotel each night with a comfortably full belly and pleasantly aching muscles - and all the while raising money for a worthwhile cause? Not much, the participants in this year's fourth annual Kilometrim l'Akim-Jerusalem hike respond. The tiyul is scheduled for May 7-9. Some 40 people of all ages and professions will participate in a trek to raise money for Akim-Jerusalem. The hike will take them along 85 kilometers from Zippori National Park to Zichron Ya'acov along the picturesque Israel Trail. Akim-Jerusalem provides a range of services and support structures for people with mental disabilities and their families. This year, the money raised, which is expected to top $60,000, will fund an after-school program at the Ben Yehuda School of Special Education; "Cafe on the Rails," a coffee shop run during the summer by people with special needs; and construction of a fire escape for one of Akim's three hostels. "I look forward to it every year," says Phil Serlin, veteran hiker and father of five who has participated in the hike every year since its inception in 2003. Back then, only about twenty people participated, he recalls. Serlin describes himself as an avid sportsman, with no family member or particular friend with special needs. "I would do the hike just for the sport of it. But because it's for a good cause, it makes me feel that much better about what I'm doing," he told In Jerusalem. Serlin says that, in this respect, he is representative of the group. Participants are attracted by the challenge of the trail and the importance of the cause, even though most do not have a direct or personal connection to someone with special needs. This year, two people are coming in from England to participate in the trek. Participants must pay a registration fee of $150, which covers about half of the participant's costs, and additionally pledge to raise $1,800 by the day of the trek. One person has singlehandedly raised $6,000, according to Miriam Marcus, Akim's project coordinator for the trek. Raising the money is not the only difficult part. "It should be a real challenge this year," Marcus promises. "The second day will be spent climbing the Carmel." Although the first Kilometrim l'Akim-Jerusalem was managed by professionals, the trek is now run by a steering committee that includes previous participants. The group has a favorite caterer, who works out of Safed, who will again plan a kick-off barbecue for the first night. Serlin explains that the group begins on the trail early in the morning, hikes all day and arrives at the hotel for dinner around five or six at night. They might enjoy singing songs together after their hot meal, but many will hit their pillows early - early since the wake-up call is scheduled for 6 a.m. Registration is still open, Marcus notes, so if you are athletically and philanthropically inclined, you can still consider joining. The organization is also accepting donations. Akim-Jerusalem operates three hostels and 13 apartments in Jerusalem for 147 residents with special needs, enabling them to live in group settings with resources that encourage autonomy and integration into the community at large. Akim's programs currently support over 1,000 people with special needs and their families. For more information, visit: http://www.akim-jerusalem.org.il/, or call: 672-8731.

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