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USM student journeys for hope

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Robby Smith, a junior and member of Pi Kappa Phi, will travel across the country this summer with Journey of Hope, which benefits the national philanthropy of his fraternity and supports people with disabilities. Courtesy photo
Robby Smith, a junior and member of Pi Kappa Phi, will travel across the country this summer with Journey of Hope, which benefits the national philanthropy of his fraternity and supports people with disabilities.
Courtesy photo

A University of Southern Mississippi student from the Theta Alpha chapter of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity will ride across the country this summer for Journey of Hope, his second time to do so. Last summer, he was a cyclist, while this year he is a crew chief. Robby Smith, a junior marketing major, will be the only member from USM to travel on the 4,000-mile bike ride.

Journey of Hope is an event put on by Push America to raise money and awareness for people with disabilities.

The event consists of a cycling trip from the West Coast to Washington, D.C.  Journey of Hope raises money by requiring team members, who must be a Pi Kappa Phi, to raise $5,500. Before the trip, different fundraising events are held to raise awareness for people with disabilities. During the trip, awareness is raised through friendship visits each night, which is a time where the cycling team meets with a community of people with any type of disability and host fun activities with those people. At the end of the visit, the members grant that particular organization with money.

“We take people with disabilities bowling, play baseball, wheelchair basketball, dances, have picnics and many other fun activities for friendship visits,” Smith said.

Journey of Hope consists of three different routes that take different amounts of time but all end in Washington, D.C. on the same day. The TransAmerica route travels from Seattle, Wa. and takes 72 days. The North route travels from San Francisco, Ca. and takes 68 days. The South route travels from Long Beach, Ca. and takes 62 days. Each route is approximately 4,000 miles long. Smith will be traveling on the South route this summer, which makes stops in Las Vegas, Nev.; Tempe, Ariz.; Dallas, Texas; Vicksburg, Jackson and Meridian, Miss.; Atlanta, Ga. and Charlotte, N.C. (where the Push America headquarters is located), with the finish in Washington, D.C.

“One of my favorite stops last summer was in Jackson, Mississippi, where we were able to help people with disabilities from the Arc of Central Mississippi into planes for personal flights,” Smith said.

When Smith went through fraternity recruitment in 2010, Journey of Hope was one of the reasons he chose Pi Kappa Phi.

“I knew I would participate in this event as an undergraduate member of Pi Kappa Phi in my time here at Southern Miss and have been very fortunate to have this opportunity again,” Smith said.

Smith volunteered both last year and this year to participate in the Journey of Hope.

“The people I met, the lives I affected and the overall experience is what made me want to do the Journey of Hope again,” Smith said. “The first time I did Journey of Hope I saw it as an opportunity to change lives, learn about others and serve people with disabilities, all while experiencing our great country on a bicycle.”

Smith has been signed up for the Journey of Hope since October. He has raised nearly $3,000 so far, leaving him just a little short of his goal. Last year, Smith raised over $7,000 and trained for at least 10 months to prepare for the ride.

“I had to learn to eat properly and rode my bicycle as often as possible,” Smith said.

This year, he is going through leadership training to be the crew chief, a job that will provide on the road nutrition to nearly 30 cyclists, coordinate cyclist safety programs and make sure the cycling team is riding in a timely manner.

Last year, Smith and other cyclists from USM fundraised through an email drive and event called Sororities for Hope, a fundraising competition between the sororities on campus. Pi Beta Phi won and had their letters placed on the bicycles and won other incentive prizes. This year, though, Smith has raised all of his money through an email drive.

According to Smith, Journey of Hope is a special event because of the hands-on work they get to do with people with disabilities.

“We ride every single day, an average of 75 miles, to work with people with any type of disability,” Smith said. “As a cyclist, riding for people with disabilities is what drives us through everyday. We view our bicycle as our disability, and that helps us better understand the people we work with each day. Any other philanthropy event cannot reach the level that Push America has brought the Journey of Hope to.”

Push America, a non-profit organization that raises money and awareness for people with disabilities, is owned and operated by Pi Kappa Phi and makes Journey of Hope possible. Push America provides grants to many people with disabilities to increase their accessibility at either their home, school or workplace. Also, Push America grants money to other organizations to help provide activities and supplies for their clients with disabilities. Push America has three major fundraising events in the summer: Journey of Hope, Gear Up Florida, and Build America.

Members of the Theta Alpha chapter of Pi Kappa Phi have been participating in the Journey of Hope since they were founded in 1999. Journey of Hope was started in 1987 and will be celebrating 26 years this summer.

To donate to Robby Smith or for more information about his fundraising efforts, visit support.pushamerica.org/goto/robbysmith13. To keep up with him during his trip, visit Twitter and Instagram at @RobbySmith283. Learn more about Journey for Hope and Push America at www.pushamerica.org.

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