U greek bikes for disabled kids

Michelle Kibiger

University senior Randy Stillinger began the adventure of a lifetime Monday, one that will take him across 22 states on a bicycle.
Stillinger and more than 50 members of Pi Alpha Phi fraternity from across the United States will ride across the country this summer for Push America, the fraternity’s national fund-raising campaign.
The 62-day “Journey of Hope” will take members across 7,000 miles on two routes from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to raise money to benefit children with disabilities. The ride will finish Aug. 10.
The cyclists are split into two groups, one for each route. Stillinger will ride through the southern United States. The other group will travel farther north. Each route is approximately 3,500 miles long. Along the way, the groups will give presentations about children with disabilities. The presentations are targeted toward a third-grade audience.
Stillinger said presentations include puppet shows to help teach children about the difficulties disabled children have performing everyday tasks. “The puppet shows teach what (kids) can and can’t do and how they adapt to situations,” Stillinger said.
Children are encouraged to interact with the puppets, Stillinger said.
The summer cycling trip serves as the primary fund-raising project for the fraternity. Stillinger said the cyclists will appear at several Major League Baseball games along the route to promote the program, which draws national attention and sponsorship.
Corporate sponsors include Major League Baseball and Saturn Corp. Other local individuals and businesses also contributed money.
Funds raised by Push America will go toward building handicapped-accessible playground equipment, developing disability awareness programs and promoting community service on college campuses.
Like most fraternities, Pi Alpha Phi tries to reach its community through outreach programs. But Stillinger said Pi Alpha Phi’s mission is unique among fraternities.
“Pi Alpha Phi is a newer, friendlier fraternity,” Stillinger said. He also said Pi Alpha Phi concentrates primarily on its service projects.
“I want to build up the image of fraternities,” Stillinger said. “I want to show my friends and family, who are disbelievers and pessimistic when it comes to fraternities, that we care about something enough to give up our summers.”
One of the ways Pi Alpha Phi members are building up their image is by devoting spring breaks and summers to benefiting disabled children. Many Pi Alpha Phi members spent spring break this year making playground equipment more handicapped-accessible, as well as building ramps from the playground to paved surfaces.
The University chapter of Pi Alpha Phi started in early 1995. Stillinger, a transfer student from the University of North Dakota, began the University of Minnesota chapter because he thought it would be a good way to get involved in community service. It has not yet received its charter, but Stillinger hopes the members’ active involvement will speed the chartering process.
Although Stillinger has never cycled such a long distance before, he said he wanted to take part in the annual event because he witnessed the finish of last year’s trip in South Carolina. “The feeling I got was just incredible,” he said. “I wanted to do that some day.”
Stillinger said he is looking forward to not only seeing the country, but getting to know other Pi Alpha Phi members and having more exposure to disabled children.