Cross-country cyclists stop at Rainbows United

07/11/2013 6:14 PM

07/12/2013 6:53 AM

A smattering of late morning drizzle did not keep many of the children at Rainbows United’s Kids Cove from going outside to greet their friends.

To the sounds of chapping, cheers, and jumping up and down, 19 college-age cyclists paraded into the parking lot around 11:30 a.m. Thursday for a “friendship visit” with the 98 students in Rainbows United’s Camp Woodchuck in west Wichita.

One gave a resounding high five to a cyclist. One got to try on a helmet. One just gave a slight wave.

After eating pizza with the cyclists, Rainbows United’s choir gave a performance for the guests. The visit lasted roughly two hours.

The cyclists visiting Rainbows United were part of the Push America program, the national philanthropy of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. Every summer, bicyclists and crew members from its chapters nationwide embark on a coast-to-coast trip to raise money for people with disabilities.

Along the way, teams stop every day in towns along their route, presenting grants to local nonprofits and interacting with people with disabilities.

The cycling team has visited Rainbows United for at least five years now, and their arrival is always “one of the highlights of the summer,” said Michelle Eastman, Rainbows’ vice president of marketing and communications.

“They are just gentlemen,” Eastman said. “They and the kids do some silly things together. It’s a win-win.”

The TransAmerica cycling team started in Seattle and will ride to Washington, D.C. — a trip called the “Journey of Hope” that will last two months and 10 days.

“It’s important for them to see where their fundraising dollars are really going,” said Adam Phillips, Push America’s director of marketing and public relations. “Building friendships with people with disabilities really changes people’s perspective.”

To be on the team, cyclists must raise a minimum of $5,500; crew members, a minimum of $2,500. This year, the team raised enough money to fund every grant before it left Seattle.

This year’s grant to Rainbows United totaled $880, which Eastman said will be used to cover bus rentals for the organization. In the past, Push America grants helped Rainbows United purchase a sound system for its choir to travel and perform, and helped construct a wheelchair-friendly swing at the organization, Eastman said.

After stopping at Rainbows United, the team was scheduled to visit the Wichita Independent Living Resource Center on Thursday evening. It spent the night at Asbury United Methodist Church, which is hosting the team. On Friday, the cyclists will spend another day in Wichita with the Midian Shriners before traveling to Emporia on Saturday.

Wichita is roughly the halfway mark of TransAmerica’s trip, and the stop has been a bit of a homecoming for cyclist Sam Ervin.

Ervin, a member of the University of Kansas’ Theta Epsilon chapter of Pi Kappa Phi, is the lone cyclist from a Kansas college to participate in the trip.

Ervin had raised $5,600 of his $7,000 goal as of Friday. To donate to any of the cyclists or crew members, visit Push America online at www.pushamerica.org.

Ervin said he realizes the value of the trip when the team makes stops like those at Rainbows United.

“We always say the bike is just a means of travel,” he said. “We’re out here for the kids.”

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