Some people bike for the exercise. Others bike for the competition. J.D. Hartwig bikes for an entirely different reason. He and fellow cyclists, friends, and Belmont University seniors James Richfield and Brennon Mobley, ride to raise funds to build a school in Mount Olivos, Honduras. Read more about J.D.
What began as a simple idea quickly formed into an exciting reality. “I was actually in St. Louis a year ago working an internship for the summer, and Brennon reached out to me with the idea for going on a really long bike ride,” says J.D. “I told him I wasn’t going to be able to go, because I had to get a job. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that it was too good an opportunity to turn down.”
The team’s soon-to-be third member James was planning his own cross-country bike ride at the time, but due to other responsibilities, the trip never materialized. Brennon talked with James about joining him and J.D. on their potential summer trip, and it immediately sparked in James a renewed sense of adventure.
“It was really cool to see how this crazy, ridiculous adventure was slowly becoming a reality,” says J.D. “God kept putting things in our path and presenting us with open doors. He’s still continuing to work in this endeavor, and it’s been really neat to see.”
J.D., Brennon, and James formed Riding with a Reason – a team with the intent of creating awareness and support for the 147 Million Orphans Foundation. The organization was founded by two mothers who combined care for 13 children, seven of whom are adopted. Once the women ran out of physical space and resources to care for more children, they created 147 Million Orphans with the goal of extending their love and support to even more children. The mothers had no experience or prior knowledge to help them run the non-profit. They were simply driven by a desire to develop a means to love more children.
“Similar to 147 Million Orphans, our team really doesn’t have experience in cycling as a hobby or a sport,” says J.D. “We’re just riding bikes – just like other people can. It’s something everybody can relate to. We hope to make an impact by doing something simple on a big scale.”
The team began their partnership with 147 Million Orphans in December 2013. “We wanted to work with an organization that was making a tangible difference,” says J.D. “In the end, it was a no-brainer for us to go with 147 Million Orphans.” Near the end of the month of April, J.D., Brennon, and James traveled to Honduras with the organization for a three-day trip during their college finals week. The trip was short, but the impact was long-lasting.
“We served in Mount Olivos, a disenfranchised community where the money raised from our biking adventure will go to build a school,” says J.D. “While there, we spent time meeting with people and investing in others’ lives. It was a great time to build relationships and also to lend a helping hand to work that’s being done down there.” Through their work with 147 Million Orphans in Honduras, the team realized the importance of building a school and establishing an educational presence in the Mount Olivos community.
Looking back, J.D. considers his time as a Westminster student as a launching pad that helped prepare him to take on a project of this size and intensity. “Going into my senior year at Westminster, I traveled to South Dakota for Summer Seminar, and that was the first time I really rode a bike for an extended period of time,” he says. “I rode something like 100 miles over four to five days, which is nothing compared to what we are doing on our cross-country trip, but it was the first time I rode a bike for hours on end. It was something small, but I picked it up pretty well and enjoyed it. Without that trip, I probably wouldn’t have pursued biking more.”
J.D. distinctly remembers encouragement from Westminster teachers who challenged him to have big dreams. “Dr. Timothy Gibson used to say, ‘Never doubt a small group of people that wants to change the world, because those are the only ones who ever will,’” says J.D. “Everybody can have a cool idea, but not everyone will necessarily see it to reality. I believe that the bigger and bolder your dreams are, the more responsibility you have to see them through. We may only be three college kids on this adventure, with little prior experience, but we have been amazed to see what has unfolded from putting our minds to something bigger than ourselves.”
*Update: On July 8, 2014, J.D. and teammates James and Brennon completed their cross-country cycling trip, ending their journey in Washington, D.C. The team exceeded their fundraising goal, raising over $58,000. The total amount will provide enough financial assistance to the Mount Olivos community to build a school and pay a portion of teacher salaries for up to two years.
Members of the Riding with a Reason team traveled to Honduras shortly afterward to visit the site and help with initial construction of the school. Plans for completion of the school building are scheduled for fall or early winter 2014. J.D. says the team would love to return to Honduras after the construction is finished to see the final product. “The trip was a great experience for me,” says J.D. “It taught me lessons in overcoming adversity and dealing with complex and unplanned situations. Most importantly, it helped me to realize what is really important in life and what is not.”