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Two Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity members spend summer raising money, awareness for people with disabilities


Chad Whitehead from Florida State University, left, Peter Beckwermert from Quinnipiac University, middle, and St. Clair Shores senior Chris Waechter, right, ride through Death Valley in California. (Courtesy/Chris Waechter)

Traveling an average of 75 miles a day, St. Clair Shores senior Chris Waechter and Grand Rapids senior Damian DeLano said they learned about empathy and helping others as part of the Journey of Hope this summer. 

The event was created by the Ability Experience, the national philanthropy of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity that supports people with disabilities through shared experiences. 

“I think it’s the pinnacle of being a Pi Kapp, giving your whole summer just to help other people and raise awareness,” DeLano said. “I’m almost done with college so it’s a really good way to close out being an undergraduate fraternity man.”

Journey of Hope participants travel across the country as either cyclists or crew members, stopping along the way for friendship visits with local organizations that support people with disabilities. 

There are three different Journey of Hope routes. Each route begins in a different city but all teams, which are made up of Pi Kappa Phis from around the country, end their journey in Washington D.C. Waechter was a cyclist on the south route and DeLano was a crew member on the north route. 

DeLano said the most rewarding aspect of the experience was the friendship visits. The teams stopped for a friendship visit almost every day. The friendship visits often included a variety of activities such as having lunch together, playing softball and having dance-offs. 

DeLano also said he enjoyed meeting other Pi Kappa Phi brothers from around the country who were driven and wanted to give back just like he wanted to. 

Waechter also said friendship visits were the most impactful part of Journey of Hope. His favorite memory from a friendship visit was a Miracle League baseball game in South Carolina. Miracle League aims to help people with disabilities enjoy baseball by eliminating common barriers. Waechter said there was a sign that said "every kid deserves a chance to play baseball" in the park, which meant a lot to him. 

“It really puts into perspective why you’re putting in all those miles,” he said. 

Journey of Hope raises more than $500,000 annually. As a cyclist, Waechter had to fundraise $5,550 before he could participate in the event. On his route, there were 29 cyclists and six crew members. Crew members provide support to cyclists and make sure everything is ready for the next day, including the route, food and ice. 

DeLano was also a social media coordinator and made sure social media was up-to-date, keeping track of daily journals. As a crew member, DeLano had to fundraise $2,500 to participate. 

Waechter said his passion for the Ability Experience was ignited when he participated in an Ability Week during spring break. After participating in Journey of Hope, he learned more about the mission of the organization. 

“It taught me to be an all-around better person and have more empathy toward people,” he said. “It also taught me a lot about teamwork and how to work well with others. We were a team. We worked together for two months.”

DeLano said he learned one of the best things people can do to help others is be their friend.

“I think it’s really helped me be more selfless and help others before helping myself,” DeLano said. “Don’t treat anyone in a way that you wouldn’t treat anyone else — just be their friends and try to understand where they’re coming from rather than where you think they’re coming from.”