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Mike Sweeney
06/06/2014 2:38 PM

We can count on tax deadlines in April and Memorial Day in May, and, in June, we know that The Arc of Amador and Calaveras will be hosting a welcoming picnic for the amazing Journey of Hope cyclists. The Arc has been putting on this wonderful event for 25 years now, and if the people The Arc serves have anything to say about it, they will be hosting these cyclists for the next 100 years.

You see, these bike riders are members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. Back in 1977, PKP founded a nonprofit organization, PUSH America, to help fraternity brothers develop leadership skills through service to people with disabilities. (I think it’s safe to say PKP is not your typical fraternity). In 1988, PUSH America created the Journey of Hope coast-to-coast bike ride to promote awareness of the strengths of people with disabilities. It has grown into the largest fraternal fundraising event of its kind, covering 32 states and raising over half-a-million dollars every year, while championing people with disabilities all along the way. In 2014, Pi Kappa Phi set a goal of $650,000 for the Journey of Hope, and they are well on their way to meeting this ambitious target. (Team member Kevin Bachar told me they have raised $520,000 to date).

They left San Francisco on Sunday, June 1, spent one night in Napa, and a second in Sacramento, before arriving in Jackson on Tuesday, June 3. They meet with disability groups at the end of each day’s ride, and, since 1990, that has meant sharing a meal in Jackson on day three with folks that The Arc serves.

The cyclists are treated like rock stars when they roll into the lunch site at St. Sava. Arc staff and participants give them a thunderous ovation as they arrive, and then the cyclists stand patiently by their bikes, while people come through to shake their hands and pat them on the back to thank them for their efforts on behalf of the disability community. Finally, everybody gets in line for the excellent lunch offering, which includes legendary homemade beans served up by longtime Arc Board Member Mary Kuntz. It’s a world-class meal served up at a world-class event.

At first, you notice how cool it is that these young men are so comfortable breaking bread and hanging out with people with disabilities. It’s also great to see how poised and relaxed the people The Arc serves are in the presence of these young leaders.

After 10 minutes or so, labels melt away and it is no longer “PUSH cyclists” and “Arc participants,” it’s just people enjoying the company of other people, and boy, do they have fun. At one table, a group pretends to arm wrestle with grimaces and histrionics that would do World Wrestling proud. At another, cyclists share information about the 2014 Journey of Hope with Arc staff and people served.

Drew Mcloughlin, of Texas Christian University, told us that there are three PUSH America cycling teams this year. The TransAmerica Team, which left from Seattle; the Southern Team, which left from Los Angeles; and this, The North Team, comprised of 25 riders, who started in San Francisco and will meet up with the other teams just west of Washington, D.C. The team that raises the most money gets to lead all the riders into our nation’s capital, and there is no doubt among these young men that they will prevail in this contest.

Cyclist Oliver Wright, of Lenoir-Rhyne University, explained that each cyclist must raise a minimum of $5,000 and most raise much more than that. He said they are “not done yet,” and he and his Northern Route team members will “do whatever it takes” to raise more money than the other teams. In the middle of the discussion, Drew looked up and said, “Man, have you tried these beans? They’re amazing!”

“Best chili I’ve ever had,” chimed Oliver. The guys went on to say that prior to the ride they heard that the Jackson stop is one of the best “Friendship Visits” of the summer. They also said that previous cyclists told them to “Make sure to check out the beans in Jackson.” The legend continues.

Oliver shared that he is “not really a big fan of riding a bike.” He said he was doing this to meet people with disabilities along the route. “These are the best times,” he said, “meeting new people and spending time with them in their home community. Maybe I will learn to enjoy the bike part more in the future, but I don’t think it will ever be as important as these visits are.”

One thing you notice about the cyclists right away is that they are unfailingly polite. They make sure Arc folks have a place to sit; they say thank you to everyone serving them at lunch; and they patiently sign every Journey of Hope T-shirt thrust in front of them. Arc staff says that every year they wonder if this year’s team will be as nice as last year’s group, and every year they are. It’s enough to give you hope for the younger generation and the future of our country. Arc participant Jonathon Zahodne said, “We love meeting the riders every year. It’s fun to be around them.”

Longtime Arc Supported Living staff member Paula Short summed it up best. “This event brings two communities together,” she said, “but, you know, we’re really just one community. These guys are great, but the people we serve are great, too.”

The Journey of Hope encourages us to “see people’s abilities, not their disabilities.” For these young Pi Kappa Phi cyclists, it’s not just a mission statement. It’s how they live their lives.

The Arc of Amador and Calaveras has been serving people with developmental disabilities since 1971. Visit arcofamador.org for information about Arc programs and services. You can follow the Journey of Hope at pushamerica.org.

Copyright © 2014 Amador Ledger Dispatch
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