A team of cyclists is promoting awareness of disabilities.
By AMY HOUSLEY
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
NILES -- It's become a staple of anyone's college career -- the road trip.
Members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity from across the country are taking that tradition and giving it a twist, however.
They are taking the "Journey of Hope," a 4,000 mile cross-country cycling trip.
The 70 men are broken into two teams -- one on a northern route, one on a southern route -- to make the trip from the starting point in San Francisco. They will reunite Sunday, after 63 days of biking, in Washington, D.C.
The north team made its stop Monday in Niles to promote its national outreach to raise understanding of people with disabilities.
Tony Barrasso of Tucson, Ariz., said he joined the fraternity to participate in the Journey of Hope. He cited the program's mission and its ability to be completely life-changing as his reasons for participating.
To participate, each team member must raise $4,000 in addition to the corporate sponsorships.
Each city the group visits sponsors them for food and lodging, so most of the money they raise can be used for grants to help people with disabilities. Before coming to Niles, the group gave a grant to the Cleveland Clinic.
After a visit to Saturn of 422, one of the trip sponsors, the men went to the YMCA in Niles, where they met with children from a day camp program.
A session on bike safety shared tips with the kids about how to be safe. To show the value of helmets, the group included a demonstration where a light bulb, placed in a bike helmet, was dropped and did not break.
Group members also shared their message from behind the scenes in a performance of "The Kids on the Block," a puppet show. The puppets talked to the kids about cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and blindness.
The audience asked the puppets questions about the disablities. Afterward, kids rewarded with toys and water bottles when they answered questions about what they had learned.
Monday night, the team was treated to dinner and a visit to Fairhaven School to meet some of the people who benefit from their work.
James "J.J." Madden of Greensboro, N.C., is a part of the crew of seven that travels with the cyclists. He is in charge of public relations for the team.
He decided to participate in the program after hearing the stories from former participants about how their lives had been changed.
Barrasso said it's hard to express what it's like to participate, adding it's something he would gladly do again. "I don't want this summer to end."