A Ride Concluded….A Journey That Continues

A prayer of thanksgiving for a safe arrival....A prayer of hope for those living in poverty.

This post has been a long time coming.  I could blame my tardiness on a busy schedule.  One likely culprit, however, is a denial that “The Ride” had to come to an end. 

As these winter months descend upon us, my longing to be back on the road grows ever more.  But it’s not just the joy of being on a bike for 70 miles a day.  What I miss is the opportunity to speak on matters of poverty and social justice before a captive audience.  Sure, I can and still do talk about these subjects.  But there’s something about the novelty of 12 dedicated (possibly crazy) cyclists that capture people’s attention.

I miss the fellowship.  The friendships that were made will go on for a lifetime.  The stories that have been told and remain to be told.  Sore muscles, ibuprofin, rainy days, hot days, rough roads, narrow shoulders, butt balm, enough Clif bars to feed armies, gorgeous scenery, amazing people, stories of hope, stories of despair, and pasta.  And even more pasta.  Did I forget to mention pasta?

Around the conclusion of the ride, the federal government had reported the troubling news that the number of Americans living in poverty had risen to 44 million.  That means in the last year 3 million additional Americans found themselves at or below the poverty line.

Does that mean the ride was unsuccessful? Hardly. Over a half-million dollars was raised for Catholic Charities programs that serve those living on the margins of our economy.  More importantly, our success was is shaping the hearts and minds of those with whom we came in contact.  It was in changing perceptions about poverty so that people would understand “the poor” to be “our poor.”  It was in motivating the uninformed and the disengaged to take action.  It was in affirming those on the front lines in the battle against poverty — physical and spiritual poverty.

Yes, the actual ride has concluded; however, the journey to reduce poverty in America must continue.  In a nation of abundance with immeasurable innovation, there is no reason why we cannot lift our fellow Americans out of poverty.  It’s really a matter of the heart and a willingness to put our own personal/political/social agendas aside for a moment and look out for the common good. 

To find out how you can become involved and join the journey to reduce poverty in America, please take the first step and visit the following: http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=1882

Up Next:  A Tribute to my fellow riders and support team.

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The Ones Who Make a Brighter Day

C4C Rider Tom Whittaker shares a story with Ciara during lunch.

Melting Hearts in Miami

I’ve heard some people describe Miami as “being in another country.”  Rich in culture and Carribean heritage.  Classic deco architecture.  Gorgeous beaches and weather.  It’s undoubtably exotic. 

But not all is cosmopolitan.

As we cycled west from Miami Beach and crossed the Venetian Causeway, Miami begins to resemble most American urban centers.  Our destination was the Centro Hispanio Catilico Child Care Center located in a neighborhood mixed of chic art studios, pawn shops and police impounds.

The Centro provides pre-school/child care for some 250+ neighborhood children.  The waiting list is long.  And it’s not because people are seeking low-cost child care and schooling.  This place simply does it right.

It was a mercilessly hot and humid morning.  Traffic was tight and the ride was downright treacherous.  Our nerves were frayed and we were exhausted.  But nothing could have lifted our spirits more than the two dozen bright-eyed children who brought us water and then proceeded to dance and serenade us with “We Are The World.”

A program of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Miami, Centro Hispanio is giving young children who would otherwise be on the margins of society a chance to make it.  Believe me, having been feted by such talented youngsters and sharing lunch with them, these kids are flourishing. 

….And will continue to do so.

According to Deacon Richard Turcotte, CEO for Catholic Charities of Miami, the high school graduation rate of their students is 92%.  Considering the national graduation rate is 75%, the folks at Centro Hispanio are doing one helluva job in the foundational aspect of each child’s development.

Here’s why it’s so amazing:  Every child at Centro Hispanio lives substantially below the federal poverty guidelines.  According to Turcotte, most families’ income is around $17,000 – $19,000 a year.  Federal guidelines state that a family of four earning $22,030 is at the poverty level.  Most social service agencies and government sponsored programs allow for their consumer to be at 150-200% of the poverty level.

Centro Hispanio is taking the poorest of the poor…and they’re succeeding.

How are they able to to do that? Primarily, parents are highly involved.  Secondly, it’s about people who care.  The staff exudes both care and professionalism.  And the kids respond to it.  Lunching with some highly energetic 4-6 year olds could lead to chaos.  Not here.  While the children laughed and celebrated, they also knew when to listen how to follow instruction.

C4C Rider Sara Terhune lunches with some of the students.

So many of our inner-city schools are languishing for a multitude of reasons.  It’s mostly due to inadequate funding and facilities.  Part of it is also the “soft-bigotry” as described by former President George W. Bush, where it became acceptable to just write off the poorer neighborhood schools and the students of color.

The fact is, every child in this nation should have access to a quality education and should not suffer from mediocre schools because he or she is black, brown, poor or otherwise.  This sin of ommission needs to stop.

I applaud the efforts of Catholic Charities of Miami, Centro Hispanio, and ALL of those who have not given up on our inner-city children and their families.  If we are to ever break the cycle of multi-generational poverty, we should look at the example here in Miami.

"There's a choice we're making. We're saving our own lives. It's true we'll make a brighter day, just you and me...."

From the road,

Jason C.

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Oceanfront Property and the Problem With Class Warfare

 
 

Cycling along the mansions and mangroves....Not a bad ride.

A Road Less Traveled

It’s pretty difficult to “experience poverty” while cycling from West Palm Beach to Boca Raton to Miami on Florida State Road A1A.  Let’s face it:  Ferraris on this stretch were about as common as the combines we saw in Kansas.  Pretty amazing considering  we rolled through Kansas during wheat harvest. 

Here’s what I can say:  When you’re on a bike, you’ve got time to think. 

I’m certainly not complaining about our ride over those three days.  Florida State Road A1A was a beautiful stretch of road we were able to cycle.  Gated mansions with well-manicured lawns and spectacular ocean views.  It’s an area so few are able to experience.  I say that not as a criticism of the residents; God bless them for their success.  I’m just stating a fact that very few will ever acheive that kind of wealth in their lifetime.  And that’s OK

But here is what’s not OK:  40 million Americans living in poverty.  One out of every four children born in the U.S.A. is born into poverty….That’s correct:  25% of all kids right here in America.

Our goal should be to build community wealth.  Yes, it would be great to live in a nation where anyone can be successful and have the opportunity to earn the kind of living to have that oceanfront property.  But I also want to live in a nation that does not forget its less fortunate. So can we do both?  The answer is “OF COURSE WE CAN!”  But first, we need to change some of our tactics if we want to move forward together.

Class warfare is a shameful exercise.  And yet candidates, elected officials, and so-called social commentators on both sides inject it into our public discourse that further divides us as a nation.  Singer/songwriter Amos Lee offers these simple lyrics:  “Don’t wanna blame the rich for what they’ve got….Don’t point a finger at the poor for what they have not….

We do not help the poor by tearing down or cursing the wealthy and successful.  That solves nothing.  Neither does the forced redistribution of wealth.  Additionally, our nation’s economy does not grow when we saddle the entrepreneurial spirit with unnecessary and/or burdensome taxation and regulation.  President Lincoln once opined, “You cannot help the employee if you’re hurting the employer.”   Makes sense to me.

It must be said that we do not grow as a nation — we are not “wealthy” — when we forget the vulnerable.  To leave the poor to “fend for themselves” is a poverty in and of itself.

With mid-term elections on the horizon and so much at stake, keep a watchful eye and an open ear to what is being said and done.  Don’t accept “soak-the-rich” rhetoric as a meaningful solution.  But also demand accountability.  What are we going to do to help our unemployed and uninsured? Can we have free-market solutions to helping the poor?  Certainly.  Do we need goverment facilitation?  Probably.  Are faith-based organizations necessary to help those on the margins of our economy?  Without a doubt.

You see what happens when you’ve got a little bit of time on your bike?

— JC

Up Next:  Melted Hearts in Miami

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“Peaceful Minds and Strong Hearts….”

It Must Be Said  

What a blessing it is to be back with my fellow C4C Teammates!  I missed them all and the fellowship we had.  I am fortunate to be able to call them “friends.”  Their prayers, care and concern for me are truly humbling.  I am grateful to God for allowing my life to intersect with theirs and I pray they will continue to cross paths over our lifetimes.

Prayers Answered

Every morning on the ride we have gathered in prayer before our departure.  It is custom that we pray for the people of that particular area, their needs, and for the needs of the poor.  It has also been custom Fr. Matt concludes every prayer that God will let us ride “with peaceful minds and strong hearts.”

Some days we’d have both.  Some days we might have one of those.  Other days it was a challenge to experience either.

The early part of the trip brought all the excitement of this incredible adventure:  Majestic views.  Warm hospitality. Fresh legs.  Over time the body wears down and those legs aren’t so fresh.  One won’t find the striking beauty of the Grand Tetons on the horizon all the time.  Then there’s the comforts of family and home.  All of these factors have led all of us to experience incredible emotional highs and some lows.

 About 6 weeks ago my mind was not peaceful and my heart was not strong.  A couple weeks later I returned home to family where they filled the hole of a broken heart that had missed them so much.  It was also decided that a change needed to be made on the work front.  My desire has always been to be involved with an organization that can have a transformative impact on people’s lives.  And while Catholic Charities offered that, it was no longer the place for me to be and the decision was made to part ways.

When such a decision is made, I learned who my true friends are.  At the same time, I also learned who were not my friends.  And that’s ok for I am blessed with the gift of genuine friendship and grateful I won’t have to suffer the false sincerity of others.

What I do have is a peaceful mind.  And my heart is strong thanks to the love of my family and the love of God.  The mind is peaceful because my trust is in God and He has not, nor will He, let me down.   

This has been an incredible summer — one of a lifetime.  It’s had its share of struggles no doubt.  But my prayer for a peaceful mind and a strong heart was answered.  All I had to do was look in front of me at the blessings I had and to take that simple step of trust in God and not in myself.

Rider’s Rambings:  Back In The Saddle

Although I’m not a native, I’ve become a Westerner at heart.  It’s not just the scenery, it’s also the attitude and the lifestyle.  Being accustomed to living a mile above sea-level makes for a tough jump into the heat and humidity of south Florida.  Not to mention the change in time zone! 

It was no surprise that after flying all day and then getting up at the equivalent of 3:00 a.m. Mountain Time I was “challenged” in my first ride.  It’d also been a month since I’d been on a bike.  Suffice to say, I “bonked” at mile 58.  13 miles later the bike was on the van and we were on our way to the hotel.  It was just 3 more miles to finish, but there was no way I was going to make it.  

The 2nd day back it was not as humid and the 65 miles was manageable.  A rest day to follow and a short ride the following day will make it easier on this out-of-shape cyclist. 

All I can say is, “It’s great to be back.”

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From the Gazette Editorial Page

I would like to thank the Gazette Editorial Page and their editor, Mr. Wayne Laugesen, for their kind words about my tenure at Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs. More importantly, I applaud them for their defense of the dignity and freedom of all people…including the poor.

Here’s what the Gazette had to offer:

 

 

OUR VIEW:  Bishop must stop bar codes for homeless….Great defender of homeless resigns.

Bishop Michael Sheridan, stand your ground as you always do. Please do not let them bar code the homeless like cereal on a shelf. You are the best hope against this bad idea, now that Jason Christensen has resigned.

Christensen, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, resigned Tuesday and cited health reasons. Christensen took the position in 2007 and has been an unwavering champion of the poor. The entire community should hope and pray for his good health.

Among Christensen’s great contributions was his unyielding refusal to cooperate with a plan to issue unique bar codes to homeless individuals as a way to force compliance with various third-party agendas. Directors of Homeward Pikes Peak and the Pikes Peak United Way have been trying since 2007 to impose a bar code system. Providers of social services, such as soup kitchens, would require homeless people to obtain a bar code ID. Each bar coded poor person would be assigned to a caseworker. Each caseworker would devise a program of treatment and other requirements for each homeless person. When scanned, a bar code would allow assistance if the person attached to it had complied with requirements of the caseworker. Failure to comply would result in denial of food, shelter, and clothing offered by mostly private social service organizations.

To those who think we can cure all addicts and the mentally ill, it probably sounds like tough love. If they can’t eat, they’ll be sure to attend their AA meetings. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near that simple for a variety of reasons.

Additionally, it’s unseemly to institutionalize control over private individuals simply because they seek help from private organizations that render aid only by choice.

The city’s best known, most central, high-profile provider of meals for the poor is the Marian Soup Kitchen, owned and operated by Catholic Charities. If Catholic Charities won’t play along, the bar code system will not work.

Christensen has said the organization would not turn away a person in need based on bar code shenanigans. Not on his watch. The kitchen isn’t in the business of rehab and control, even though Catholic Charities works hard to help rehabilitate people who want help.

Christensen has explained that a significant percentage of the homeless and poor will not heal themselves of addiction and/or mental illness, no matter what tough love agendas someone hands them. He understands the poor will always be with us. And yes, he understands that some people are poor and homeless by choice, which is not a crime, and will not obey caseworker demands.

Christensen values the dignity of the poor, while some view them only as a public illness to be cured. As Catholic Charities searches for a new leader, let’s hope they find another one with the guts and compassion to stand for the dignity and rights of the poor.

In the meantime, Bishop Sheridan, watch out for this bar code agenda. Please don’t let this resignation ease branding of the homeless.

— Wayne Laugesen , editorial page editor, for the editorial board. 

Read more: http://www.gazette.com/opinion/christensen-103321-bishop-homeless.html#slComments#ixzz0x7tmK0AV

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A Return to the Road…And an Exit….

Dear Friends:

I would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers while I have been home over the last couple of weeks.  

Getting my health in order — I was down to a gaunt 172 lbs. — was much needed.   Spending time with my family was an absolute necessity.

I’ve missed my teammates.  Lord knows I missed being in perhaps the greatest city in America:  New Orleans.  But nothing can ever take the place of seeing your daughter off to kindergarten.  It only happens once.

I am happy to say that I will be rejoining the C4C Team next week in Florida carrying the message that 40 million Americans living in poverty is simply wrong.  It will be good to be back on the bike and with everyone to cap off what has been an amazing journey.

Catholic Charities USA’s Campaign to Reduce Poverty was the impetus for the ride and it was through CCUSA that I became involved with Cycling For Change.  It is with some sadness that I announce I will finish the ride not as the CEO of Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs but as a private citizen in support of the Campaign to Reduce Poverty.

After lengthy discussion with the leadership of the Board of Directors about the direction of the agency, I concluded it was best for us to part ways.  Thus, I have resigned my position as President/CEO of Catholic Charities.

The people of the Marian House -- staff, volunteers, and most importantly our guests -- shall always have a special place in my heart. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life-giving work.

It has been a pleasure working for Catholic Charities and I shall especially appreciate the staff and the people we served.  The New Marian House project was an incredible effort that has become a shining example of the goodness of Colorado Springs and what the Church has done for the least among us. 

To the Marian House Staff who toiled in tough working conditions all through the transition, your professionalism set the standard by which we all should try to achieve.  And to the Catholic Charities administrative and development team, you brought energy and passion to the Marian House story which raised the monies needed to complete the building.  I am proud of all of you.

I wish to also thank Bishop Michael Sheridan for his incredible support of Catholic Charities and for his personal care and friendship I have been privileged to receive during my tenure at Catholic Charities.  Unfortunately, we live in an era when our Church and our Bishops have been much maligned in the secular media.  I can tell you that  Bishop Sheridan stands out as one of the good guys.  I am grateful to have worked with him.

I have already begun the process of transition and I’m considering positions both in and out of Colorado.  My passion will always be to serve in an organization that creates positive transformation in people’s lives.  Whether it’s lifting people out of poverty, affording a child the chance at simply “being a kid,” or preserving the dignity of the human spirit, we all have an obligation to make the world a better place.

My inspiration shall be rooted in the Arapaho translation of the Gospel’s greatest commandement I learned earlier this summer at the Wind River Indian Reservation:  Bee-Ka-The-Tee’.  “Love one another.”  Let us all do our best to do that and we shall make this world a better place.

Peace,

Jason C.

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Taking a Time Out

Dear Friends:

There’s no question all of us riders have experienced physical exhaustion.  At one point or another we’ve even experienced emotional exhaustion.

Lately I’ve experienced both. 

Being diabetic presents an array of challenges when participating in endurance-type sports (e.g. cross-country cycling ride).  Finding balance is important.  One has to take in enough fuel (sugars) for energy but at the same time be cautious that it’s not too much so as to over-elevate one’s blood glucose levels.  

Over the past three weeks I have had difficulty keeping my “numbers” in range which necessitated seeing my doctor.

Secondly – and most importantly — is the care of my family.  My wife and daughters have made tremendous sacrifices over the course of this ride.  I humbly stand in admiration for what they have had to do.  Being away from them has been painfully difficult.  I needed to come back home to spend some time with them. 

Getting a most welcome hug from my daughter.

As such I have taken a brief break from the ride and returned to Colorado Springs.  I’m getting the proper care from my doctor and giving the necessary attention to the needs of my family.

I shall rejoin my fellow C4C riders late next week as the route enters the southeast portion of our trip.  We will continue to carry the important message that poverty is a threat to the common good and that 40 million Americans living in poverty is simply wrong.

The Cycling For Change message is important.  But family and health are far more important to me.  

These are the things in life that I shall not take for granted anymore. 

Thank you for your prayers and understanding.  You can look for more blog updates after next week.

Peace,

Jason

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