Bart Thompson and a bike-a-thon’s benefits

Nov. 3, 2011, 1:00 a.m.
Bart Thompson and a bike-a-thon’s benefits
(Courtesy of International Samaritan)

“We’ve got the information in the information age, but do we know what life is like outside of our convenient Lexus cages?”

This line from Switchfoot’s song, “Gone,” is one that resonates with Bart Thompson ’12. After witnessing life beyond “Lexus cages” during a service trip to Guatemala in 2007, Thompson combined his passion for service with his athletic talent by spearheading two 335-mile bicycling campaigns through Michigan. His efforts have raised nearly $40,000, funds that have gone toward providing food for children in Guatemala and building schools in Haiti.

The summer before his senior year of high school, Thompson travelled to Guatemala as part of a school service trip, where he served as a teaching assistant for a class of second graders and helped improve the school facilities. The particular school he worked at was located in close proximity to a garbage dump, and Thompson was struck by the way this dictated the daily lifestyle.

“One of the walls of the school was also part of the wall of a garbage dump,” Thompson said. “People literally live, grow, work and die in the dump.”

He was also appalled by the degree of poverty he witnessed.

“They took us to this woman’s house, which was literally a tin shack that housed her, her daughter, her mother and her husband,” he said. “The temperature gets up in the hundreds, the mother is old and sick and the woman herself has cancer, but they still said that they were not poor enough to qualify for a house.”

“If that’s not poor enough, then what is?” he added.

Thompson left Guatemala inspired to pursue further service.

“I go back to the whole idea that how much is given correlates with how much is expected,” he said. “You need to take the gifts you were given, and ask yourself, ‘What can I do with them?’”

For Thompson, it was taking advantage of his athletic ability. He was originally a recruited rower, but was injured freshman year. He ended up spending a lot of time training on the spin bike and began cycling at the end of that year. Around that time, he also learned about a “Ride Against AIDS” fundraiser organized by FACE AIDS and decided that he wanted to do something similar.

Thompson approached International Samaritan (IS), a Michigan-based nonprofit he had previously worked with, and pitched his project.

“IS gave me free rein to set it up,” he said. “They gave me the license to create it the way I wanted to.”

With the project underway, Thompson then contacted a few of his friends from high school — some of whom had travelled to Guatemala with him — to see if they were interested in organizing the biking and financial aspects of the ride.

The group, teamed up with IS, wrote letters asking for donations, publicizing the “bike-a-thon” and finalizing the 335-mile route from Ann Arbor to Harbor Springs. Since IS was working on building 18 schools in Haiti at the time, Thompson decided to direct the funds the race raised toward supporting that cause.

“We did fundraising on our own, a donor matched the amount we collected and we ended up raising $20,000,” he said. “This was enough to build four schools.”

Thompson followed last year’s successes with another bicycle campaign this year.

“It wasn’t likely we were going to find another matching donor, so we wanted to work toward smaller goals that would add up,” he said. “The IS told us they were starting a new hunger and nutrition program in Guatemala, so this year’s bike-a-thon was publicized as ‘Biking for Bowls.’”

According to IS, $100 is enough to provide a year’s worth of school lunch for a child. So far, Thompson has collected approximately $15,000.

IS Executive Director Oscar Dussan applauded Thompson for his relentless spirit.

“Bart is the only one who year after year has been successful,” he said. “He’s a leader and he’s very visible. So when he speaks, people will listen. He’s also doing something for someone who will really remember his actions.”

While Thompson has not returned to Guatemala since his 2007 trip, he hopes that his efforts will show that it is still possible and essential to make an impact here at home.

“We have the responsibility to improve the lives of others who are in situations where they can’t necessarily help themselves,” he said. “It’s a part of humanity.”

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