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Pursuing a worthy cause

By IVY KELLER • Jul 25, 2016 at 10:40 AM

A small group of bicyclists passed through this area on Friday. They may not have seemed out of the ordinary as they pulled into their hotel near the turnpike, but appearances can be deceiving. This particular group has a big cause riding on their shoulders.

The cyclists in question are part of an effort known as “Pursuit for those with disabilities.” By the time they stopped in Sandusky, they were on the last leg of their 3,500-mile trek across country to raise funds and awareness for people with disabilities. 

The idea for the ride started at an organization called the Center, the largest non-profit organization in Houston servicing adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. 

For David and Marie Baldwin, the Center was a major part of their lives.

“We don’t have our own children, so the center has really become our adopted family. Over the years, the Center has done magical things for clients and families of clients,” said David Baldwin.

The organization has struggled financially over the last ten years due to dwindling federal support as the state turns down federal funds, forcing organizations to rely on other avenues.

Baldwin said he and his wife hated to see the Center hurting for funds.

“We decided to do something more substantial to help the Center financially, not just for a year, not just for two years, but something that for multiple decades could really put us in a better financial position until, hopefully, some of these regulatory things start to play in our favor,” he said.

They didn’t hold back. For the project, the Baldwins set the fundraising goal at $13.5 mil. The money will go toward many things, including purchasing the land the Center currently occupies.

Raising $13.5 mil is no easy feat. To achieve this goal, the Baldwins, Foundation board president James Pavlik and Center board president Richard Rosenberg organized Pursuit: a 3,500 mile trek across country via bicycle to gain support and donors. They also wanted to use the trip to visit other organizations similar to the Center, and to raise awareness for people with disabilities.

“We’re meeting with them to ultimately find out their best practices and what they’re doing in a leading way, so we can bring those practices back to Houston,” said Jourdan Ellis, campaign manager for “Pursuit.”

They’re also trying to create a national dialogue where different organizations are better able to work together, Ellis added.

So far, so good. The team has just over a week left in their trip, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We haven’t met a single angry person along the entire journey,” David Baldwin said. “It’s really restored my faith in our country. Just — the goodness of people is everywhere.”

At one point, when they stopped in John Day, Oregon, Baldwin did his usual post-ride routine. He blew up a kiddy pool right by Main Street, filled it with ice water, and sat in it to cool down.

After a short while, the sight drew enough of a crowd that a police officer showed up to investigate along with two other men.

“We told them what we were doing and they got interested,” Baldwin said.

The men got to talking and when Baldwin asked where he could buy a birthday cake for someone in his group, the locals offered to bake it for them instead. They ended up inviting the bikers back to their house and throwing a birthday party, although they had only met the Pursuit riders a few minutes before.

The experience has been a positive one for Baldwin and his fellow riders, but it’s been about than just good experiences.

In the end, it comes back to the people the Center was meant to serve in the first place.

If there are people local in towns who would like to join, they can reach out on the website at pursuit ride.org. In Houston they also have a room with a video screen set up so people can see the day’s previous ride, allowing people to experience the journey with the riders.

“If you give people with disabilities a chance, a chance to work in your company or to live in the house next to you, the favor will be returned a thousand times over,” Baldwin said. “And, our real mission is just so that when you see someone with cerebral palsy or Asperger’s or autism, treat them just like you would anybody else.”

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