We recently sat down with ‘09 Pi Alpha, Ben Thacker to discuss why he gives to The Ability Experience and why he is a 77 Society donor. We learned so much. His choice to give is inspiring! He has been giving a monthly gift to The Ability Experience for the past nine years.
When we talked, he shared some great insight, memories and tips for new team members, as well as how his connection with The Ability Experience has changed the way he views people with disabilities and had an impact in his life.
This is what he had to share.
Hi Ben! Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi, I’m Ben Thacker. I live in Denver, CO with my wife, Amy and our 6-month old baby boy, James. I serve as the Director of Business Development at Frontdoor, a home services company that is focused on taking the hassle out of owning a home.
What Ability Experience summer event(s) did you participate in and the year?
Journey of Hope 2009
Finish this sentence. “Were it not for The Ability Experience, I would have never…”
Were it not for The Ability Experience, I would have never had truly learned what it means to be a servant leader.
Why did you participate in our summer leadership service program(s) so many years ago?
Journey of Hope seemed to strike the perfect balance of adventure and service. I have never been attracted to the idea of military service like some but the concept of riding a bicycle across the country with a group of like-minded guys while simultaneously helping people instantly captivated me. I couldn’t participate as a junior but was able to join the 2009 team after graduating. It was probably the best post-grad experience I could have ever engaged in!
How would you recommend new participants make the most of their summer leadership program experience?
Just like any other act of service – go into it with an open mind and open ears. Be slow to judge and easy on yourself. And don’t assume you have the answers or know what’s best. You’re a servant, not a savior.
What advice would you give to parents sending their sons off to participate in our summer leadership service program event?
Get excited to witness how much your son will grow and learn about the world and himself in a single summer!
What has been your most meaningful experience with The Ability Experience?
It’s hard to pin down but one of the strongest memories, but what I come back to frequently is the memory of our team cycling toward the United States Capitol building. It was a surreal experience to be moments away from closing one of the greatest chapters of my life. It was strange to think about not being surrounded by the 26 other guys I had spent 72 days getting to know like brothers. And it was exciting and emotional to see my friends and family waiving to us as we pedaled our last few rotations from the millions that we’d completed to get there from Seattle. I’ll never forget it.
How did your summer experience(s) with the organization change the way you view people with disabilities?
To me, the trip just reinforced the notion that everyone matters in our communities, no matter their ability. I was encouraged by new people in new ways in every town we were lucky enough to visit.
Can you think of three things you like most about our servant leadership programming for students and why you like them?
1. They are grounding – it’s easy to take your abilities and circumstances for granted. Serving others grounds you. 2. They are challenging – don’t sign up if you aren’t prepared to be challenged in new ways. 3. They are encouraging – you leave every single Ability Experience event with a reinvigorated and hopeful perspective.
What has changed about yourself since you became a Pi Alpha?
I like to think that I’ve become a more open and hospitable person. As a team member, I experienced a level of generosity that I had not previously been exposed to by strangers. It absolutely blew my mind that strangers could and would care so much about people that they had never met. They opened their homes to us, fed us ungodly amounts of food, sponsored various experiences and treated us like family. It made such an impact on me that it changed the way I treat strangers as well.
Can you tell us about some of the people you’ve met while on your summer trek across the country that has markedly changed you?
I remember a handcyclist in Colorado Springs – this guy rode 65 miles with us from Colorado Springs to Pueblo… only using his arms! He was a total badass. I also remember a poet in Missouri who was confined to a wheelchair but had the best sense of humor. He wrote comedy poetry and one of the poems that I remember was titled “Bellies, boobs and butts” because those are the three body parts at his eye-level that he can’t avoid constantly staring at. I also remember Jeremy Jones – he was the project manager on our route. Best. Guy. Ever. We are close friends to this day, and I can’t imagine not knowing him.
What motivates you to give back?
The experience changed my life. I know that every dollar I give will help change someone else’s for the better.
Why are annual gifts from “every Pi Alpha, every year” an important part of the success of The Ability Experience?
People with disabilities are born into communities across our country every day. That means that we have to be committed to supporting those communities every day as well.