Although Pursuit officially launched January of 2016, it has been years in the making. Read below to find out how David and Maire Baldwin, the founders of Pursuit, came up with the idea. Along with 200+ volunteers, many corporate companies, a few staff members and the Baldwins… Pursuit will advance the interest of all individuals with disABILITIES across the United States. Together, we can change the way our neighbors with disABILITIES are seen and treated. Join us… in PURSUIT - for those with disABILITIES.
1. How did you become involved in The Center?
My wife Maire and I have been married for 24 years and live in Houston, Texas. Shortly after getting married, we made the difficult decision not to have children. We both knew this would leave a void in our lives, so we went looking for an organization where we could volunteer, and hopefully be a part of a different type of family. We found The Center, and we have both volunteered there for over 20 years. Over the years we’ve done everything from painting classrooms, to planting gardens, to raising money through cookie sales, to hosting The Center’s Christmas Party for the past 15 years…that’s personal our favorite. And over the years, we’ve grown to consider The Center’s residents and clients to be our unique family….instead of having 2.3 kids, we actually feel like our family is the 450 clients of The Center.
2. What is the vision behind The Center
The Center was founded 65 years ago and was one of the early pioneers in creating programs to help individuals with developmental disabilities (such as Down’s syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, etc…) lead a much more fulfilling and independent life. During our early years, the families of our clients only expected their son or daughter to live into their 20’s or 30’s, as was the norm then. But our programs allowed our clients to gain life skills, job training, and even eventually live independently outside their families’ homes as they grew into adulthood. And along the way, they made friends, and their self-esteem grew by leaps and bounds. Before we knew it, our clients were living longer and more-fulfilling lives, well into their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.
Today, The Center is Houston’s largest not-for-profit organization supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (“IDD”). We are home to nearly 300 residents, and serve another 150 people who live in the community but attend our vocational, educational, and day programs.
3. Why the cross-country ride?
As recently as the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, no one expected individuals with IDD to live into their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. But due to the success of programs like The Center, most people with IDD are now living full life expectancies. This has come as a surprise to almost everyone, including the families and friends of our clients as well as the government agencies that help support people with IDD. As life expectancies expanded rapidly, families hadn’t planned for this, and government support hasn’t kept pace either. Most of our clients don’t come from wealthy backgrounds, and aren’t able to earn sufficient wages to pay for their housing, food, medical and other costs of daily living, particularly as they enter their “retirement years”. The result is that many organizations across the country like The Center are facing a funding crisis, and are at risk of going out of business. Texas is particularly challenged ranking last or close to last amongst the 50 states in most measures of supporting adults with IDD.
I frequently say that The Center is the best thing that has ever happened to me and Maire. But like parenting, we worry a lot about how “our family” is going to make ends meet. One morning I was particularly worried about The Center’s financial challenges, and I couldn’t sleep. So I got out of bed early and got on my bike for a very early morning ride. As I rode, I could feel the stress and worries begin to dissipate and my normal optimistic outlook began to return. Towards the end of the ride, the idea of riding across the country to raise money for The Center and to raise awareness nationally of the pending financial crisis for people with disABILITIES became clearer. I quickly rode home and woke up my wife to share my inspiration and ask for her support. She was “all-in” and that’s how Pursuit was born.
4. Why did you choose a bike ride as your method of fundraising?
Maire and I started riding bikes casually for exercise and recreation several years ago. We love how friendly people are to bikers and it’s a great way to make new friends. I’ve never met someone on a bike who wasn’t having a good day! Also, over the past several years, I’ve wanted to take time off from my job to go visit the best organizations across the country that do what The Center does. So on that early morning ride to relieve my stress, it all came together. I could dedicate 2 months to riding across the country, visiting other organizations like The Center, meeting new friends and helping to raise money and awareness to support our neighbors with disABILITIES. As Maire and I started to share our dream/vision with others, our “peloton” started to grow. Today, there are more than 200 volunteers working to make Pursuit a huge success, and with Trek Travel’s help, we’ve created 3 opportunities for people who enjoy riding to participate in the Pursuit mission as well.
5. In regards to your ride across the U.S., what are you most excited about? What are you most nervous about?
When I was little, my parents used to pack me and my older brother Bob into our station wagon and go on “driving vacations”. We usually had our sleeping bags laid out in the back 2 rows and loved watching the country-side pass by as we made our way to our destination, which was usually a National Park, beautiful lake, or river. Now we fly everywhere we go, and I’ve missed the slower journeys at ground level across the country. Over the past couple of months, I’ve read several books and watched a handful of documentaries about biking across the U.S. They each have a few themes in common: First, the majesty, openness and beauty of the North and Western U.S., from Oregon through the Rockies and into the Midwest. I can’t wait to see and smell these open spaces, mountains, rivers, trees, wildlife, etc. from the saddle of a bicycle. Once we get into Minnesota, the terrain changes and we get to experience the Midwestern charm and friendliness of all of the small towns in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Starting in Minneapolis – St. Paul, we get to ride into some of America’s great cities: Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and ultimately Washington, D.C., and all on a bicycle with old and new friends riding along with me, both in person and with everyone following our journey online.
While the bike journey is clearly the trip of a lifetime, I’m most excited to visit the organizations and people across the country that spend their lives helping our neighbors with disABILITIES. In most of the major cities along our journey, we’ll be visiting some of the best and most unique communities that support people with IDD. I can’t wait to see how their families differ from ours.
This journey isn’t without anxiety though. Trying to raise $11 million in Houston when oil is $35 per barrel is one challenge. And I’ve only done a couple of long rides in my life. Someone recently told me that our Pursuit journey was equivalent to 25 back to back MS 150’s. I’ve done the MS 150 once and almost didn’t make it to work the following Monday – Ugh! Due to a couple of recent injuries, I’ve not really been able to train as much as I would like. I guess I can “train” as I cross the country! Lastly, I’m scared about leaving my job at a very difficult time for our energy industry – not ideal. But thank goodness for an incredible group of colleagues who have eagerly agreed to help cover for me while I’m “in Pursuit” of Maire’s and my life mission.
6. Tell us about your best day on a bicycle.
Shortly after conceiving the idea for Pursuit, I fell off my mountain bike and tore up my knee/leg pretty seriously. For the first couple of weeks following my surgery, I doubted whether I’d ever return to cycling. About 3 weeks after the surgery I got on an exercise and I turned the crank the full 360 degrees. It was one of the best feelings of my life! As my recovery continued, I asked my doctor and rehab coach if they would allow me to try to ride in a bike ride from Telluride to Gateway, Colorado…. a trip I had planned with 25 friends well before my accident. The ride was scheduled for 4 months following my surgery and seemed highly improbable, maybe even unwise. But I had a goal to train for and it made my recovery speed by. Last September, on a perfect early fall Saturday, I joined my 25 friends in forming an amazing pace-line across beautiful Colorado through mountains, farm land, and into the Red-Rock Canyons of Western Colorado. The glory of riding with 25 friends for a good cause, on a beautiful day, has me so excited about Pursuit!