For the members of the Wyoming Ohio Cycling Foundation (WOCF), bicycling through the hills of their neighborhood wasn’t quite enough. They found a unique way to combine their love of riding with charitable giving to support local veterans who rely on Easterseals for help.
Fifteen years ago, a small group of cycling enthusiasts started informally meeting at Wyoming’s Half-Day Café to ride in the mornings before their workdays began. Jim Briggs, one of the founding members, says, “We started at Bonham Road and worked our way, hill by hill, down to Mt. Pleasant.” Not only did they work their way through the streets of town, over the next couple of years they worked their way to a larger core group of 20 to 30 riders and into non-profit status.
The founding members realized that with their growing numbers, they could do more than ride and formed a non-profit organization. “When we created the foundation, we made those donations formalized where all they were actually tax deductible, and we gathered those funds and gave them to local charities,” said founding member Scott Litwin.
After an article about their group appeared in a local newspaper, WOCF members began a relationship with Easterseals. They met Chris Macklin, a Job Development Coach with the agency’s Military and Veteran Services division and cycling enthusiast. Chris took them up on their offer to join an early morning ride.
During that ride, Chris candidly shared his story of serving in the U.S. Army and the obstacles he faced after discharge due to a life-changing, service-related injury. Chris recounted the physical and emotional turmoil upon his return to civilian life and the disconnect that ensued. He shared that it was Easterseals that helped him move on. Just as he is able to help those veterans now who need assistance for their own unique reasons.
According to the VA National Suicide Data Report, there has been a troubling rise in suicide rates for younger veterans aged 18 – 34, a rate that continues to increase. After learning about Easterseals GiveVets22 campaign to create awareness of this crisis, Litwin says, “The staggering amount of suicides [among veterans] really touched us, and we decided to make it a major donation from our funds last year.”
Through the foundation’s 365 Challenge that allows the riders’ friends and families to make donations on their behalf online, WOCF was able to raise over $9,095 for Easterseals Military and Veteran Services. “We are honored that Wyoming Cycling Club chose to make this generous investment in our mission of leaving no veteran behind,” said Easterseals Military and Veteran Services Director Scott Robinson, a 30-year veteran of the Air Force. “About 60% of budget comes from the amazing philanthropy of people in this region who want to give back to veterans. With more funding, we are able to serve more people. It’s that simple.”
Easterseals Military and Veteran Services provides resources that help former service members gain stability in their lives primarily by connecting them to employment. Understanding that comprehensive services are integral to success, the team also provides education and skills training and emergency resources. Because the department is veteran staffed, the team has unique insight into how to best respond to each individual’s needs..
“What this group did really went to help with transportation for several veterans, including car repairs and bus passes,” Macklin says of the cycling club’s gift. “When one of the veterans I assist faces a transportation crisis, it can lead to larger issues. It’s easy to get discouraged and lose hope. It’s great to have philanthropic dollars so that you can tell a guy, ‘Hey, we can help you with that,’ and empower them to get a job and help them keep it.”
For the cyclists, the exhilaration of biking through the streets of their hometown has evolved into something much more.. Their willingness to go beyond cycling and support veterans and their families sets them apart as Easterseals heroes.
You can help us serve more veterans and military familes right here in Greater Cincinnati by making a gift to Easterseals.
CLICK HERE to visit our online giving page and select VETERAN SERVICES under gift designation.