UNC Greensboro junior Giovanni Martinez says he isn’t what you’d consider a cyclist – he never even touched a road bike before last year. But now he’s in the middle of a 3,680-mile cycling tour – all to help individuals with disabilities.
Martinez is participating in “Journey of Hope” – an annual cross-country cycling trip where participants stop at camps and community organizations that work alongside people with disabilities. The cyclists stop to help raise awareness and deliver joy to those in the disability community. “Journey of Hope” is part of “The Ability Experience,” the philanthropic initiative of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. Martinez is the president of the Epsilon Iota chapter at UNCG.
Pi Kappa Phi was the first fraternity chartered at UNCG in 1981. UNCG has six fraternities under the Interfraternity Council and nine fraternities under the Multicultural Greek Council. The University is also home to Greek-lettered organizations that are not social-focused.
WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN
Martinez, a first-generation college student from Winston-Salem, says fraternity and sorority life was not on his radar when he arrived at UNCG. It wasn’t until a Pi Kappa Phi brother showed him the benefits of fraternity connections that Martinez decided to join.
“Pi Kappa Phi was really the first fraternity that opened up their arms to me,” Martinez says.
Three Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers from UNCG are participating in “Journey of Hope.” Martinez and Neil Gilchrist are doing the “North route” – going from San Francisco, California to Washington, D.C.
“My chapter brother did the San Francisco route last year and when he was talking about it, I wanted to relive his experience,” says Martinez, who is studying business administration. “One of my favorite parts of this trip is when the city or town is expecting you. In Grand Island, Nebraska we had a police escort across the city. People were waiting for us and cheering us on.”
A HUMBLING JOURNEY
Alum Connor Tobin ’22 is participating in the “TransAmerica route” – starting in Seattle, Washington and ending in Washington, DC. Both routes arrive in D.C. on August 12.
“We’ve stopped in so many different places, it brings a newfound energy to your day,” says Tobin, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. “When you get off the bike, you’re quickly humbled and grateful for the abilities we are blessed with.”
Tobin says he’s always been athletic but didn’t have a lot of serious cycling experience. Martinez started training for the trip in December 2022.
“The first couple of months were rough,” Martinez says. “It was winter, so it was cold, it gets dark and dangerous quick. But you’re learning something new, building a passion, and helping other people by bringing awareness to the cause.”
CUTTING IT SHORT
Participants are required to raise a minimum of $7500 to help cover the cost of the trip, but also give out grants to the various organizations along their route. Martinez has currently raised more than $6000, while Tobin has raised more than $8700.
“We get to see where our fundraising goes,” says Martinez. “During this trip, we were able to see a park built by members of Pi Kappa Phi through Journey of Hope.”
Martinez says he did various challenges to help raise money, like taking a pie to the face. Tobin turned to family and friends for help, but also did challenges like Martinez – including shaving his head.
“We put up a challenge for people to reach a certain dollar amount and I would shave my head,” Tobin says. “It was a running joke between me, and my friends and we didn’t think it would happen. It was unfortunate that I lost my hair, but I’m very happy that we could raise that money to go toward the cause. And on some of these hot days, I’m appreciating the short hair.”
EMPATHY OVER SYMPATHY
Not only do participants get to see how the fundraising is spent, but they see the impact through their interactions with campers along the way.
“I met a family who is first-generation, and their son has a disability,” says Martinez. “I got emotional because I understand what it’s like to be first-generation, but seeing his struggle with another layer on top, that really got to me. But the biggest thing about him was his smile.”
“The smile and the joy that comes from the people we visit,” says Tobin, who is from Jamestown, North Carolina. “They’re always so happy to see us and be where they are. It reminds us on our hard days to be happy where we are.”
Martinez says the opportunity has allowed him to build a sense of understanding and see different perspectives, especially when it comes to individuals with disabilities.
“One of the main ideas of our philanthropy is empathy over sympathy,” says Martinez. “When you have a chance to stop at these camps and see the work being put into the outcomes, that’s where the true experience of “Journey of Hope” lies.”