John Maul (left) playfully tugs on the hat of hope rider Joe Hayden of Evansville, Ind., on Tuesday as Journey of Hope riders share a “bring your own lunch” picnic with members of the disabled community and support workers at Ashley Park in Grand Island. Barrett Stinson | Grand Island Independent
The group met with people living with developmental disabilities and being served by Mosaic, Mid-Nebraska Individual Service, Goodwill and Integrated Life Choices. The annual Journey of Hope raises funds and awareness for people with disabilities. The Arc of Central Nebraska, with the help of local businesses, were able to provide soft drinks from Sonic, Runzas from Runza and various ice cream treats from Dairy Queen for the bicyclists, said Chelsea Seim, executive director of The Arc of Central Nebraska. The main purpose of the stopover, though, was for bicyclists to meet people living with disabilities. That happened initially on Monday night at the Elks Lodge in Grand Island, where everyone was able to enjoy dancing to music provided by a DJ. The second get-together occurred Tuesday during the Ashley Park picnic.
Andrew Bublitz, project manager for the 2016 North Route, said that even before their ride began, some bicyclists began forming cyber connections with the people they hoped to meet during their journey. He noted those connections often continue through social media such as Facebook long after the Journey of Hope concludes in Washington, D.C.
The meeting in Ashley Park was no accident, because that’s where the bicyclists learn their cross-country trek can have a lasting physical impact on a community — and on people’s hearts. After they finished eating, bicyclists and their new friends left the picnic shelter to try out the park’s playground equipment. Then everyone re-assembled to hear an oral history about Journey of Hope and Ashley Park. Grand Island residents Tammy Nance and Andrea Spencer are the keepers of that history. They joined forces with Maryann Schiefen and Sue Hamilton, all mothers of children with disabilities, to get the Ashley Park playground equipment installed for children with disabilities.
In 1992 a dedication ceremony was held to celebrate Ashley Park’s new status as a barrier-free park. A park sign in honor of Christopher James (Hamilton), Katie Lee (Nance), Katie Rose (Schiefen) and Mallory Rose (Spencer) for being inspiration for that effort. Nance and Spencer said that also was the year when Goodwill Industries introduced them to the Journey of Hope riders in 1993. Each Pi Kappa Phi cyclist must raise a minimum amount of money before being allowed to go on the cross-country trip.
There are other connections between The Ability Experience and Grand Island. In 2006 a grant was awarded to provide some additional playground equipment specially designed for children with disabilities. In 2008 members of Build America, which also does work under The Ability Experience, came to Grand Island to install the special playground equipment, which rests on a soft, black surface material that provides an extra layer of safety for people who use the equipment.