Professor giving a lecture to students in old main
Fraternity cyclists meet Charles Lea Center clients

 Pi Kappa Phi group rides for people with disabilities 


Justin Pennington, Crockett Jurrius and T.J. Howard talk with Mike Dietz, a

resident of the Charles Lea Center. Photo credit: JOHN BYRUM/

By Linda Conley
Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Published: Friday, July 27, 2012

Charles Lea Center staff and clients lined up in front of their campus Thursday to greet some special guests.

Excitement filled the air as some people stood and others sat in their wheelchairs, stretching their necks to watch the visitors come into view. Within minutes, the crowd started cheering as several white vans led a team of cyclists into the parking lot in front of the campus.

The bikers were tired and sweating from riding in the extreme heat, but they couldn't help but smile and become energized after the warm welcome. The cyclists are part of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity chapters across the country participating in Push America's “Journey of Hope,” to create awareness and raise money for people with disabilities.

They are making a 4,000-mile journey as part of the effort. They started out in Long Beach, Calif., June 11 and will end in Washington, D.C. The team travels about 75 miles per day.

“You wonder how you are going to get through the day, and you push through it,” said cyclist Brenton Mahaffey, a Wofford College senior from Houston. “It has been a fun trip, and we have had some good stops.”

Mahaffey decided to participate in the cross-country trek in honor of his sister, who was born with a disability. He said his sister was born without part of a cerebellum used in motor control.

“I made sure I was with this group because I wanted to stop by Wofford,” Mahaffey said.

As part of the trip, the cyclists have scheduled stops at some of the agencies serving people with disabilities such as the Charles Lea Center, which serves more than 1,400 Spartanburg County residents with disabilities and special needs.

This year Push America honors its founding in 1977 with a 35th anniversary and the 25th anniversary of the “Journey of Hope.” With the combined efforts of sponsors and individual team members, this year's “Journey of Hope” will raise more than $500,000 for people with disabilities. Push America and Pi Kappa Phi have raised more than $15 million.

After their arrival Thursday, the cyclists had lunch at the Charles Lea Center. They sat at tables with people suffering from disabilities and dined on pizza, salad and iced tea.

“I am glad they are here,” said Kathy Lancaster, president of The Voice, the Charles Lea Center client council. “I saw them when they visited last year. It is fun to talk to them and have lunch with them.”

The cyclists also enjoyed visiting with the people, whom they are committed to serving. Almost every table in the cafeteria was filled with people laughing and talking.

“When I am riding, I think about the people I am riding for and how they would like to be on a bike,” said T.J. Howard, a cyclist from Fort Worth, Texas. “I think about them and that drives us that extra mile.”

Team members spent the night at Wofford before continuing their journey today. The cyclists are heading next to Charlotte.

Cyndi Beacham, president of the Charles Lea Center Foundation, said the center received a grant from the fraternity to install a new automatic door for one of their buildings. She said the new door makes the building more accessible for some of the people the center serves.

“Our folks love to have young and energetic folks visit. The bikers are a big hit,” she said. “We appreciate this fraternity's philanthropy. The fraternity chapter at Wofford comes to the Charles Lea Center all the time and have relationships with our folks. They really relate well with our folks.”

Copyright © 2012 — All rights reserved. (Used with permission)