UI student biking across America for disability awareness

BY ALY BROWN | JULY 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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Journey of Hope, an annual cycling trek across America, has raised more than $650,000 this year for people with disabilities. The team stopped at the University of Iowa — the school of one team member — Wednesday to raise awareness and meet the community.

Billy Baker, a UI senior majoring in business management and finance, said he is cycling for Journey of Hope because people with mental and physical disabilities are often ignored in society.

"The biggest reason why I do this is to help people who are normally put to the side," he said. "Not many people choose to work with people with disabilities."

Baker said the individuals with disabilities the team has met were all excited to spend time with the squad.

"Sometimes, just spending five minutes with them getting to know them makes their day," he said.

The team started in San Francisco on June 3, and the members plan to finish in Washington, D.C. Aug. 5. The journey is part of Pi Kappa Phi's philanthropy project Push America, bringing fraternity brothers and individuals with disabilities together.

Baker is the fifth person from the UI chapter to participate in Journey of Hope. According to Baker's Push America page, he has raised $6,900 of his $7,000 goal.

The team visited the Arc of Southeast Iowa during the stay in Iowa City for pizza, games, and connecting with the community at a Friendship Visit.

Angelo Jackson, 14, said between bites of pepperoni pizza that he thinks the organization is good and the team is cool.

"I think they are fun and nice," he said.

Jackson said he recently competed in cycling at the State Special Olympics in Ames and enjoys riding his bike.

Bill Reagan, the president and chief executive officer of the Arc of Southeast Iowa, said he is grateful for the team's advocacy and dedication to disability awareness.

"Every year, it's a different group of guys, but they are always so friendly," he said. "They are doing something physical on behalf of people who often can't."

Reagan said it is the fourth-consecutive year the Journey of Hope team has visited the Arc, and each year the Arc community lines up at the Old Capitol to greet the cyclists.

"We are so grateful for groups like this," he said. "Groups that advocate for disabilities face pressure of dwindling funding sources and disappearing grants."

Jimmy Fliss, a junior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, said he has participated with Journey of Hope since his freshman year, and the opportunity to meet those who enjoy helping others keeps him coming back.

"It's too good of an opportunity pass up to cycle with around 30 other guys who want to help people as much as you do," he said. "I love meeting people at places I have never been to before, and the volunteers always hug us like we're their best friends."

Fliss said he wants to advocate for the disabled community to combat the social stigma against those with disabilities — including his former misconceptions.

"I had no idea what to expect," he said. "I didn't really talk to people with disabilities before, but I was foolish, and I felt like I was missing something. I have met the nicest people on this trip."

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