Changing lives often requires an extraordinary effort, like the one exhibited by Beta Omicron member Chris Alley. The Northwestern State University senior led a team of cyclists across Florida to re-shape the perception of people with disabilities.
On May 12, 2011, this 800-mile cycling event kicked off on the shores of Miami, traveled through the Florida orange fields, reached the Gulf coast, passed through Orlando, wound back to the Atlantic coast and culminated at the State Capitol in Tallahassee. The team spread a message of acceptance and understanding to communities in Florida through newspapers, radio and television, civic groups and community leaders, reaching millions of people.
As a crew member, Alley focused on logistics, managing the riders and working with local contacts to ensure the success of each leg of the route.
Gear Up Florida’s programming is what makes this event so unique. Every event is centered on the mission of the trek. Some days, team members will visit three different organizations that support people with disabilities. Seeing the direct impact on the people they raise money for is very emotional for team members.
Many cannot help but be touched by the gratitude and kindness that is shown along Gear Up Florida. That’s where Alley’s role in comes in. His work as a crew member focused on helping others understand Push America’s mission. “One of the most tragic barriers is a lack of understanding by our society. A simple message of empathy and acceptance is all it takes to break down this barrier,” said Alley.
Only lasting a few days, the ride may be over, but some friendships will last a lifetime. Alley says his favorite stop was the Russell Home in Orlando. The facility does not receive government funding. It is operated solely on donations from the community. “I’ll never forget 7-year-old Michael. He has the most infectious smile in the world,” Alley said. Michael has a partial brain stem, but loves to play patty cake and listen to jazz music. “Spending time with Michael helped me understand why we aim to focus on people’s abilities rather than their disabilities. He’s such an amazing little guy. I forgot why we were there and got caught up in having fun.”
The impact of the 2011 Gear Up Florida team will likely be felt for some time, allowing more experiences like these. This year’s team broke an all-time event fundraising record, collecting $96,634.47 that will support future rides and agencies along the route through Push America grants. Alley’s personal contribution was just under $2,000.
Alley says there is much work to be done on behalf of those with disabilities at NSU and in the Natchitoches community. As the chapter Vice President, responsible for recruitment, Alley plans to incorporate the mission and values of Push America in his efforts this fall.
Gear Up Florida was created with one mission in mind: to reach out to as many people as possible across the State of Florida, spreading a message of acceptance and understanding on behalf of people with disabilities. Since 1997, over 300 Pi Kappa Phis have participated in Gear Up Florida.
[Portions of this article from http://www.theabilityexperience.org]