Journey of Hope makes a stop in Socorro

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The Plaza was hopping with anticipation last Tuesday afternoon as members of the community awaited the arrival of a band of bikers at least 30 deep.

Although they were outfitted in matching blue and yellow uniforms boasting their affiliation, this wasn’t a typical group of men on bikes. These men were members of the Journey of Hope, and they were cycling their way straight to our nation’s capital.

The Journey of Hope is a yearly event constructed by Push America, a non-profit organization founded in 1977 by members of Pi Kappa Alpha national fraternity, which works to promote a greater understanding of people with disabilities.

Every summer since 1987, 90 different members of the fraternity from all around the country have geared up for the Journey and cycled across the country, participating in events and activities intended to raise funds for various service projects. Each participant is expected to raise a certain amount of money, and the total amount of funds raised are distributed to different charities and non-profit organizations throughout the nation.

There are three different routes the cyclists can be assigned to. The trans-America route begins in Seattle, the north route begins in San Francisco and the south route in Los Angeles. All three end in Washington, D.C., and 30 cyclists are assigned to each route.

Paulding, Ohio, native Paul Webb, who participated in the JOH as a cyclist last summer, has been assigned as project manager for this year’s south route. He definitely understands the challenges that face the cyclists, both physically and in regard to raising money.

“It’s kind of hard to raise $5,500 by yourself,” he said. “Especially if you don’t have any prior experience in fundraising.”

Webb said that after the hard work members put into gathering that money, it’s nice to be able to see where the money goes while they’re cycling from town to town. So far, the entire event has raised $660,691. They were aiming for $600,000. And then of course there’s the small matter of making a 2,600 mile journey on a bicycle.

“Getting up and cycling every single day, at least 70 miles with the same guys; it’s a pretty unique experience to get to know those guys so closely like that,” Webb said. “And yea, everybody is kind of going through the same thing. Some people are hurting more than others. Everybody kind of feels a little bit of the pain. Everybody has a bad day.”

While it’s an obviously impressive feat what these men are doing, at the heart of the entire event lies what Push America and the JOH are really about — people with developmental disabilities who have to fight for their right to be viewed as regular members of society.

“They are just regular people. They’re just like anybody else,” Julie Marquez said. “You look at the person first. You don’t look at the disability.”

Marquez is the Community Living Supervisor for Tresco, a non-profit organization based in Socorro and southern New Mexico that serves and assists children and adults with developmental disabilities. She thinks that community awareness is key in recognizing those with disabilities as people, and not people living with any severe disadvantage.

“They want what we want. Our individuals are home owners. We work to get them homes. They own their homes,” she said. “They want to have families, they want to get married, they want to have jobs, they want to go on vacations.”

Tresco and Marquez help provide that, and they’re also the reason that the JOH rolled through town on Tuesday.

2012 is the second year in a row Tresco has sponsored the Journey, and this year it provided the members with an enchilada dinner.

Socorro High School Athletic Director Damien Ocampo provided the entire crew with a place to sleep at the high school.

When the team came through the Plaza, they were met by children from the city’s summer youth group, townspeople and members of Special Olympic’s Team Socorro. Socorro County Chief Deputy Shorty Vaiza provided the cyclists with a police escort through town. They read the children stories and sang songs.

It was a community event, there was community entertainment, and growing and developing events, such as the JOH, in Socorro are something Marquez and Tresco are counting on.

“That’s what we’re looking forward to doing,” Marquez said. “Getting bigger and getting more community support.”

Overall, Tuesday proved successful and the members of the Journey of Hope seemed to make an impression in the few hours they were in Socorro.

“I think they were very polite, very well mannered young men,” Marquez said. “I think it looks like their hearts are in it and they’re there to do the right thing.”