Lifestyle

Islanders cycle to raise funds for Kenyan students

Josh Parkinson, Pam Uhlig, Hannah Lee Jones and Phillip Jones take a break from a training ride at Greenbank Farm. The four will ride with a team of six on a 1,000 mile ride to San Francisco to raise money for the Ndoto Project.   - Patricia Duff / The Record
Josh Parkinson, Pam Uhlig, Hannah Lee Jones and Phillip Jones take a break from a training ride at Greenbank Farm. The four will ride with a team of six on a 1,000 mile ride to San Francisco to raise money for the Ndoto Project.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

They put their heads together to raise money, but the bake sale didn’t produce enough dough.

Now they’ll put their power to the pedal and ride down the coast to California.

Whidbey Island residents Hannah and Phillip Jones want to raise some serious money to help a group of young Africans go to college.

The Ndoto Project, a 1,000-mile September bike ride from Seattle to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, aims to do that. The ride is called “S2SF 2011 Bicycle Tour,” and takes as it’s tagline, “Two wheels, a million dreams.”

It was like a dream for Hannah Jones when she met the students while working for the Volunteers for Peace program in Kenya in 2009.

“When I met them — three men and two women between the ages of 20 and 26 — none of them were in school and they all had hard knock stories,” Jones said.

But she saw untapped potential in each of her natural leader companions.

She didn’t want to just leave it alone when she left Africa; the feeling that she could do more for these young intelligent friends of hers was palpable.

“I did some research and realized it would cost about $300 to $700 for each of them to go to college in Kenya per semester, and I thought, ‘We can do that,” she said.

After moving to Whidbey Island on Earth Day 2010, biking became a new and frequent pasttime for the Joneses. It suddenly occurred to the couple, after the bake sale yielded only a few hundred dollars, that a charity bike ride to raise scholarship funds was a great idea.

Hannah formed the nonprofit Ndoto Project.

“Ndoto” is the Swahili word for “dream” or “vision.”  While working with Volunteers for Peace in an orphanage with children who had been orphaned by the HIV/AIDS crisis, Hannah met Houston, John, Irine, James and Esther.

“I was so compelled by their stories, which told me they all have the potential to become leaders in Kenya. We knew we had to help open some doors for them so that they could pursue their goals,” she said.

The Ndoto Project is not only focused on opening doors to education, but also on training youths in social entrepreneurship and leadership.

Esther, the first of six children to go to college in her family, told Hannah, “My personal vision is to earn a degree in journalism, get some work, help my family and start development projects in the village to improve the lives of many.” She also expressed a desire to begin projects that provide counseling to other youths.

Hannah Jones leads several lives, working part-time at the Whidbey Institute, writing and blogging, and dealing with the demands of running a startup nonprofit.  An avid cyclist who rides her bike to and from work daily, a long ride to San Francisco seemed like a natural challenge to pursue.

For the inaugural ride, which the Joneses hope to turn into an annual event, they put together a team of six riders, four of whom are from Whidbey. The team has been collecting donations and sponsorships, with the goal of raising $1,500 each.

Phillip Jones has been the logistics man, mapping out the team’s route, deciding where the team will stop and figuring out the 80-miles per day schedule. After arriving at their destination

Sept. 17, they will hop into their support vehicle and return home.

It’s been challenging trying to raise funds in this economy, but the team remains undaunted and accepts that the first year of any event is a start.

“At this point, we just want to get through the ride,” Phillip Jones said.

“Get through it and create a buzz around it, so we can continue next year,” Hannah Jones added.

“We’ve had some advice from people on the island such as the people at Half-Link Bicycle Shop and Wander on Whidbey in Langley. They’ve all been helpful. They said don’t expect too much the first year,” Phillip Jones said.

But, although they may not make as much money the first year as they planned, these ready riders are determined to keep the wheels of fortune turning.

The team has tried to be creative when asking for donations. Phil Jones thought up the idea of offering to perform challenges for his friends.

“I tell someone that I’ll ride 100 miles on the island for a donation, or that they can donate $50 if I bike my next errand to Seattle,” he said.

This is a good way to keep people’s interest in the cause, Jones said.

“They donate and get to watch me do something interesting.”

The team has also taken full advantage of social media, with a Facebook page, frequent “Tweets” and a website for the Ndoto Project.

The ultimate goal of the Ndoto Project, Hannah Jones said, is to raise $16,500. All funds will go toward scholarships and training for Kenyan youths.

Jones said the dream of doing something for the good of others is coming true for her.

“I realized that you don’t have to be a philanthropist to do something cool,” she said.

To make a donation, sign up for next year’s ride or find out more, go to www.ndotoproject.org or www.s2sf.org.

 

 

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