Apostle Islands Adventure As Push America closes on an amazing 35th anniversary year and looks back in time, it is truly amazing to see how far we have come and the effect the organization has had on so many people. It is even more exciting to look ahead at the next 35 years and realize that there is still so much potential. What is unique about Pi Kappa Phi and all those involved with Push America is the endless desire to evolve, improve and grow in positive directions away from status quo. That inherent desire is in the fabric of Push America and has created a culture of philanthropy that will never be capped. The mission of Push America is “Building leaders of tomorrow by serving people with disabilities today.” With a bright future ahead, we have an even greater opportunity to bring those two clauses closer together than ever. Since 1977, Push America has provided service opportunities to members of Pi Kappa Phi through the understanding and belief in the abilities of people with disabilities. Millions of dollars have been raised and countless hours have been spent improving the perception of disability in our society. In 2007, it was recognized that the great work of the organization was desired beyond the members of Pi Kappa Phi and friends and family wanted to be a part of this great movement.
wasn’t long before all of us started realizing that these events could be so much more impactful if, through events like Marine Corps Marathon, relationships could grow and a more full understanding could take place,” said Director of Push America Challenge Kyle Thomas. “Participating in events like this together gives a more complete sense of abilities and what we can all accomplish together.” Now, funding from Push America Challenge provides opportunities for athletes with disabilities to participate in inclusive recreation opportunities alongside teammates without disabilities. This new program is bringing more attention to the abilities of all people.
It was in that year that Push America Challenge was created as a way for anyone dedicated to the organization’s mission could test their physical limits while also raising funds. In the first few years of the program, marathons were run, free throws were made and triathlons pushed competitors to raise valuable funds for the organization. But something was still missing. What makes the organization so impactful are the relationships built along the way. In 2012, inspired by the idea of participating in events with athletes with disabilities, the Enabled Athlete Program was established. “It
On July 12, 2012, Push America embarked on the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior to kick-off the first fully inclusive adaptive sports event through the Enabled Athlete Program. Twenty-two individuals, both with and without disabilities, military and civilian, came together in a wilderness setting to accomplish one goal—through TEAMWORK, disability is removed.
The Push America Perspective is an official publication of Push America. Published biannually for the Push America and Pi Kappa Phi family, the Push America Perspective communicates exciting events taking place throughout the organization while providing awareness of opportunities for further involvement and ways to give to Push America.
This year, Push America and a group of excited and committed parents created the Push America Parent Ambassadors. This group has already taken a leadership within the organization working with the parents of team members as their sons are readjusting to life after a team event. If you are the parent of a past or present team member and would like to learn more about the Parent Ambassadors, please e-mail Sue Stacy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While the Apostle Islands Adventure was intended to be a four-day sea kayaking experience for athletes of all abilities to experience the wonders of a beautiful landscape, the impact was not felt in the act of paddling. The real memories would come from the bonds that were built every step of the way; relationships forged on the idea that each team member— regardless of ability level—has something special to share. “When we first decided to take on this new challenge, we believed there was potential. We knew from Push America team events that empathy learned through the development of relationships was a key component in personal growth,” said Kyle Thomas. “However, we were not sure how the dynamics of bringing soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan together with other Enabled Athletes paired with 12 fundraising participants would play out. But what happened in the Apostle Islands was something truly special and something no one would have seen coming.” As the team of 22 gathered around the campfire and stories began to surface, something unique began to happen. With every moment of shared laughter, walls came tumbling down. With every story of personal struggle, bonds began to form. In just four days in the Wisconsin wilderness, a family emerged. It didn’t matter if you were a recent high school graduate from Florida or a proud soldier whose deployment in the Middle East was cut short by an IED explosion. There was a sense of loyalty and dedication to the success of each and every team member. “It’s important to understand that you’re not alone as you find your way through the world managing with a disability and we can all work together to be so inclusive and come together as a team. You really can’t ask for anything better,” said BJ Ganem, Enabled Athlete and retired Marine. In the first official event for the Enabled Athlete Program, paddling a kayak was merely an avenue to something bigger. The Apostle Islands Adventure embodied all of Push America’s core values on a new level. By reaching outside of their comfort zones, athletes realized ABILITIES not previously known and displayed this human potential for all to see. Through TEAMWORK, barriers were broken and an understanding of one another as people was formed. Through such understanding, true EMPATHY for everyone on the team, both with and without disabilities, was realized. Through these three ideals, each team member left with a revitalized sense of INTEGRITY and mission to spread the belief that anything is possible. Lonnie Bedwell, one of the Enabled Athletes, summed it up best. “Before you do something like this, it’s like you have this enormous wall in front of you. You can’t see around it; you can’t see over it; can’t see through it. And then you run into this kind of organization and it’s like they took this enormous wall and they put a door right in the middle of it. And not only did they put a door there, but they led you to the door, they opened it and they led you through it. And this whole new world just opened up.”
Jeremiah, what was it like growing up with a hearing disability? I had a normal childhood and a family that loved and supported me, but being deaf could be frustrating and lonely at times. It obviously impacted my ability to communicate with hearing people but I always try to look at the positives rather than the negatives in life. Even though it was not always easy, I never let my hearing disability stop me from being involved with hearing people and doing the things I wanted to do. It is all part of who I am. Noelle and Mel, what made you both want to learn sign language? Noelle: I started taking sign language in high school because some of my friends were taking it. I have been signing for about 8 years now. Mel: I have deaf relatives, so I grew up around ASL (American Sign Language) my entire life, but I never studied it in a formal classroom setting until I arrived at college. I grew up knowing signs here and there, but with my theater background and love of language, studying sign language felt like a natural fit. I was enthralled from my first class, and I was one of the few that didn’t have to change my major five times. What made you all want to join Journey of Hope? Jeremiah: When I joined Pi Kappa Phi, I learned about Push America and I realized that it was an organization that I wanted to support and be involved with. I talked with a few brothers who had participated in Journey of Hope and they encouraged me to do it. I felt it was an opportunity I had to take advantage of while I had the chance. I wanted to have the opportunity, as a person with a hearing disability, to be a role model for people with disabilities and encourage them to do the things they want to do in life and not let their disability stop them. Noelle: One of the Pi Kapps had come to me and told me about the opportunity. As I saw videos about Journey of Hope and learned more about what Push America stood for I knew this was a once in a life time opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I also realized there was no better way to spend my summer than doing something I love and being able to travel and help out a great cause in the process. Mel: My joining the team was a total fluke. I actually went to the information session to get details for a friend that was unavailable to go. However, watching the videos they presented and hearing Tyler speak about the organization and the mission, I was really intrigued and decided to apply. Do you have any standout memories of your summer? Jeremiah: One memory that really stands out is talking with the mother of one of the young girls with a disability. She told me that each year her daughter takes the picture of the team that visits and places it under her pillow. She keeps it there until the Friendship Visit the next year when she will replace it with a picture of the new team. That story really made me realize how powerful Journey of Hope is. I also enjoyed teaching sign language to many team members and watching them use it during the trip. Tyler and I actually gave some of them a sign name based on their personality and habits. Those moments were great. Noelle: This is probably the best question to ask yet the hardest to answer.
Mine was our first Friendship Visit in Long Beach. There was one little boy named TJ who was an amazing dancer and he was having the time of his life doing so. TJ then got me to follow him over to a mini pool where people were picking out rubber duckies and he started to splash me. As I started to splash him back he would run away. He had me chase him for over an hour. His mother came to pick him up and started talking to me. TJ just kept hugging me goodbye. While talking to his mom I found out that he had just recovered from heart surgery. Meeting someone who could run around for hours that had just recovered from heart surgery was inspirational. Mel: My favorite was, I believe, the second or third Friendship Visit. We watched a showcase put on by a cheerleading squad for young girls with disabilities, and I met a girl there named Wyatt; she was an absolute wild child. She was running around like crazy, climbing all over the guys, begging us to run around with her on our backs. Later, I talked to that girl’s mother and learned that she had had two heart surgeries before the age of five. Her mother said that she probably had so much energy because she was trying to make up for lost time. When that little girl asked me to come over and play at her house the next day, it drove me to tears. You hear the guys that have completed JOH talk about the Friendship Visits, and you think you have a sense of what it’s really like, but it wasn’t until I experienced it firsthand that I truly understood what Push America’s mission was all about. Meeting Wyatt was definitely the moment Journey of Hope became “real” for me. How has life changed for you since the completion of Journey of Hope? Jeremiah: I learned so many things during my experience, things that I brought back home with me and apply to my life every day. It caused me to realize, even more than before, that I should not take things/people for granted; that I should appreciate more the things I have and the people in my life. Journey of Hope encouraged me to become more involved with the community I am in than I ever was in the past. Noelle: I’ve learned to look at things from a different perspective. Stuff in the past that would have stressed me out doesn’t seem as big of a deal because I’ve realized I don’t go through half of the trouble that people with disabilities have to go through. I’ve also learned to see the ability in everyone if someone can’t do something I try and look at what they can do versus what they can’t. Mel: Interpreting Journey of Hope was my first “real world” interpreting experience, which was a blessing. Everybody that completes Journey of Hope leaves as a changed person, and I feel that from both a professional and personal perspective. A real game-changing moment for me was when our team arrived in D.C. An announcement was made that, from that point onward, ASL interpreters would be present at all future Pi Kappa Phi national events. That really got to me, knowing that the work we put in this past summer would have a lasting impact on both Pi Kappa Phi and Push America. I am continually thankful for my summer experience, and I would not trade it for anything.
a promise to myself
sue stacy, parent ambassador co-founder
Due to the lessons learned through Push America, I have made a passionate promise to myself; every day I will do something, large or small, that makes a difference in someone else’s life. I see young men do it every year by riding bicycles, building wheelchair ramps, running marathons, sitting and listening or even dancing, for or with someone with a disability. I am proud to be a Push America Parent Ambassador. Staying connected with the good work of Push America is the best part of being a Parent Ambassador. I love interacting with other parents, many of whom I find are in the same predicament I was a few years ago. “You want to do what this summer?” was my initial response. Though I admired my son’s commitment, and eventual
fortitude, I was skeptical. Was this a real heartfelt allegiance or a way of getting out of having to work a minimum wage summer job? No matter how “riding his bike across America” first became a conscious thought for him or why he decided to follow through on that pledge, Push America’s Journey of Hope changed his life and mine. As a parent, I have seen first-hand the invaluable leadership opportunities and challenges Push America provides our sons. The compassionate qualities gained cannot be taught in a classroom. The patience, empathy and understanding for those with disabilities are acquired through their commitments to and experiences through Push America. I am proud to be a Push America Parent Ambassador with a
goal of fostering understanding for a truly great charitable organization. I am an impassioned supporter because, through Push America and Pi Kappa Phi, my son made two of the best choices of his life. First, he chose to ride his bike across America, then he served as project manager to lead other young men on their journeys the following year. I am so proud of him today because of those choices. And because of those choices, he continues to grow as a future leader of tomorrow and I remain a loyal Push America Parent Ambassador. We all have the choice to stay involved with Push America, and I hope you seize those opportunities. Once you do, I know you’ll be as glad you did as I am.