Students prepare to bike cross country for Journey of Hope
Three fraternity brothers are making a difference by spending their summer participating in the 2016 Journey of Hope, an annual two-month long bike ride across the United States that raises money and awareness for people with disabilities.
The three students, supply chain management junior Jordan Ybarbo, sports administration junior Gabe Chapa and entrepreneurship junior Jacob Levy, are members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.
“The Journey of Hope is the flagship event of Pi Kappa Phi’s philanthropy, The Ability Experience,” Levy said. “Each of us has to raise at least $5,000 through a variety of means. I’ve raised the majority of my money through cold-calls to businesses, but fundraising events and even going door-to-door can be equally successful as well.”
According to The Ability Experience website, $5,000 is the minimum fundraising requirement, but most participants fly past that marker. The website says 96 percent of participants raise more than the minimum requirement, and the 105 Pi Kappa Phi brothers who participate each summer raise more than $500,000 annually.
Ybarbo is on his way to reaching the $5,000 requirement by holding multiple fundraising events.
“Last week, we had a barbecue fundraiser at the fraternity house and raised nearly $700,” Ybarbo said. “But overall, raising the money has been difficult. In the past, guys made it look really easy, but now it’s pretty obvious they had to put a ton of work in.”
Like Ybarbo, Chapa is still working toward the $5,000 requirement, but he believes that he’ll reach that number within a few weeks.
“You have to be comfortable with talking to people and asking for money,” Chapa said. “If you aren’t good with that, it’ll be nearly impossible to raise the necessary money. It’s definitely something I’ve had to improve on. I’ve always been good at socializing, but asking for money is something else completely.”
So far, Levy is the only one of the three to reach the $5,000 requirement.
“I’ve already raised over $7,000 and honestly, it wasn’t that difficult,” Levy said. “I called a variety of people and businesses to set up meetings for me to give a presentation. After the presentation, most of them ended up donating. People like to give money to a good cause, you just need to reach out to them.”
Donating to a good cause is why UH graduate Ryan Nguyen and many others have contributed to Levy’s campaign.
“I know this isn’t the case for everybody, but donating $20 isn’t a big deal,” Nguyen said. “If I can have a direct, positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities, I almost feel obligated to donate. Jacob made a great presentation and never pressured me into giving more money than I felt comfortable giving. It was an easy decision.”
Fundraising, however, is just one part of the challenge for brothers who want to participate in the event. Because the Journey of Hope covers over 3,600 miles at an average of 75 miles every day, a demanding training program is needed to prepare riders for the rigors a journey like this entails.
“Getting prepared to bike all those miles has definitely been the hardest part for me,” Ybarbo said. “I’m not the in the best shape, and getting ready for this summer has been a struggle. It’s not easy going from limited physical activity to biking at least 20 miles a day.”
Chapa echoed Ybarbo’s statement.
“I consider myself to be really fit,” Chapa said. “I played baseball throughout high school and I hit the gym every day, but training for the Journey of Hope has absolutely killed me.”
Levy’s Facebook page shows a similar story. There, he posts updates on his training progress.
“For my spring break I cycled every day and reached 150 miles,” Levy said through his Facebook page. “The shortest day was 22.5 miles, and the training gets easier every day. When I started, this would have been extremely difficult to do, but now I’m enjoying the time I spend on the bike instead of struggling.”
According to Michael Brooks, a UH alumnus who completed the Journey of Hope in 2013, the grueling training is the hardest part of the process by far.
“It takes a lot of dedication to wake up every single day and ride your bike at least 20 or 30 miles,” Brooks said. “It’s a serious time constraint. You need to set aside a minimum of one hour a day just for biking. If you don’t, you’re not going to pass the fitness exams leading up to the event.”
The fitness exams are administered by the national fraternity every few months to ensure the riders are physically capable of handling the Journey of Hope.
“The fitness exams are probably the worst part of training,” Levy said. “You train almost every day during the week, but none of it is as rigorous as the fitness exams. The exams simulate what a day during the Journey of Hope would be like. It’s rough, especially with the Houston humidity. The last one was over 100 miles in a single day, and I was completely dead by the end of the ride.”
During their trip, the Journey of Hope riders go into the cities they’re staying in each night and serve the local community.
“Honestly, what I am looking forward to most is forging lifelong bonds with like-minded people across the country,” Ybarbo said. “When we visit each city, we get the chance to have a meaningful impact on the community. I can’t wait to meet people all across America who are just as passionate as I am about helping people with disabilities.”
For Chapa, the Journey of Hope also gives him an opportunity to see the country.
“I haven’t traveled outside of Texas very much,” Chapa said. “Obviously, helping people is the main goal, but being able to travel across the country for the first time is a pretty nice bonus. We’re going from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and I’m going to have the opportunity to see and go to places I’ve only dreamed of visiting before.”
All of the brothers said they can’t wait for everything to get started.
“The Journey of Hope is going to be the best two months of our lives,” Ybarbo said. “I know I’m speaking for everyone when I say that we are all really excited for this summer.”
Serjio Brereda, a political science senior who founded Adaptive Athletics at UH, an organization dedicated to promoting athletic programs for people with disabilities, is also a member of Pi Kappa Phi, and he works with The Ability Experience as well.
“As a person with a disability, it warms my heart to see the work they do and the impact they have,” Brereda said. “My only hope is that they end up having a lasting impact on all the communities they visit, especially the one right here in Houston.”
The brothers depart for the Journey of Hope on June 12 and will return to Houston on Aug. 16.