By: Erin Stride – Staff Writer
Two students from the University of Dayton’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity volunteered two and a half months of their summer to bike or support those biking across the country to raise money and awareness for persons with disabilities.
The event, known as Journey of Hope, is organized by Push America, the fraternity’s national philanthropic organization, which is devoted to working with children and adults with disabilities while raising awareness for and promoting acceptance of them.
This past Journey of Hope set out to raise $650,000 and work firsthand with special needs individuals in a variety of cities across the country, according to pushamerica.org.
Pi Kappa Phi president Ryan Brown, a senior accounting and operations management major, said he participated in the south route of Journey of Hope and worked as a crewmember to support the cyclists. Brown said he also participated in the “friendship visits,” in which the volunteers personally engaged with disabled children and adults.
Brown departed from Long Beach, California, on June 6 and arrived in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 2, along with the other cyclists and crewmembers, traveling a total of 3,700 miles. The group was welcomed to D.C. by a police escort and a ceremony on the front lawn of the Capital building.
Brown said every participant has a unique Journey of Hope moment “where something happens and it all just clicks.” He said his moment occurred when he watched an 11-year-old boy and his sister perform a duet at an open-mic event at Camp ASCCA in Alabama.
The boy, Hank, suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak. The siblings sang their version of “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a song the audience was familiar with.
“Everyone knew the song and what he was trying to say,” Brown said. “[In that moment] I thought, this is why we’re out here doing this. This is what it is all about.”
Though he signed up as a crewmember, Brown said he was given the opportunity to cycle for one of the days. He said he rode 100 miles during that period. According to pushamerica.org, the cyclists average 75 miles per day.
“I went out with a goal to bring what I learned from JOH back to our chapter. We’ve set up friendship visits and we’re going to have a big year. We want to get the whole campus involved.”
Matt Franklin, a junior entrepreneurship and marketing major and Pi Kappa Phi member, also participated as a crewmember for the TransAmerica route of JOH, which started in Seattle, WA and ended in D.C. Franklin said he worked in human resources and as an equipment and finance manager for his team of 35 cyclists.
“It was hard handling the navigation road challenges because each day brought new challenges,” Franklin said.
Franklin said he particularly enjoyed the friendship visits because they put everyone in high spirits.
“The dances were the best parts of the friendship visits,” Franklin said. “We all let loose; the guys are goofy and their faces lit up.”
Franklin said his friendship visits entailed sitting down with persons with disabilities and doing whatever activity they wanted at each location.
“Every day on JOH is different,” he said. “It’s the culmination of all these little things that makes the journey a life-changing experience.”