“It changed my life, truly. I had all these preconceived notions and ideas about people with disabilities, and almost all of them were erased over that summer. “
Steve Gongola, Eta Epsilon (Miami-Ohio)
1999 Pi Alpha
Steve Gongola, Eta Upsilon (Miami-Ohio), is a 1999 Pi Alpha who knows firsthand the impact an experience like Journey of Hope has on the life of a Pi Kappa Phi. “I saw the opportunity to serve others and test myself on many levels. I had never made a commitment to push my body physically like that before, and the idea of getting to interact with people with disabilities across the country with brothers from other chapters really excited me,” shared Steve.
Steve fondly remembers riding into Washington, D.C. on arrival day as the most rewarding experience he has had as a member of Pi Kappa Phi. He recalls the summer of 1999 as one of the most challenging summers he had faced to that point – and it remains so today. But completing the journey with his brothers at his side made it all the more fulfilling, and some of his best friends to this day are the men he met on Journey of Hope in 1999.
Not only did Steve and his fellow teammates learn about their ability to face physical and mental challenges, but they also learned about the power of connection through their shared experiences with people with disabilities they met throughout the summer. As Steve shared, “It changed my life, truly. I had all these preconceived notions and ideas about people with disabilities, and almost all of them were erased over that summer. I found out very quickly that I was completely wrong about this population of people. They had more figured out than I did. They celebrate every moment with true joy and provide value and happiness to everyone they meet. If anything, they did more for me than I did for them.”
On a personal level, Steve’s Journey of Hope experience helped him push his goal-setting skills and resilience to a new level. “After you push your body and mind that way, nothing seems out of reach with the right amount of planning and execution.”
Today, Steve lives in Wake Forest, Illinois, with his family. As the father of two children, Steve has learned from his involvement with The Ability Experience the importance of instilling the willingness to help others in the next generation. “I absolutely love taking my family to service and volunteer events. And my kids love it, too,” said Steve. “Seeing them grow and their perspectives evolve to where they can know and understand that some people have had challenges in their lives that they haven’t is powerful. Nothing makes me prouder as a dad than when my kids do something good for others because they know it’s right. That’s the highest quality of life there is for a parent.”
Steve continues to support The Ability Experience today because he believes we must help provide all Pi Kappa Phis with the life-changing opportunity to become servant leaders. “The mission of The Ability Experience is to create shared experiences to serve people with disabilities and develop the young men of Pi Kappa Phi into servant leaders. If we got to take part in the rewarding impact of those shared experiences, we have a duty to help provide them to brothers eager to experience what we already know to be life-changing.”
Are you interested in becoming a Journey of Hope team member and joining the legacy of Pi Alpha brothers like Steve? Learn more about the trip and what it takes to be a team member.
To donate to The Ability Experience, click here.