Dozens of cyclists arrived at Fairfield's Trek Bicycle Store on a clear, bright Sunday morning for a first-of-its-kind event that already has raised more than $22,000 for an organization that seeks to understand and prevent suicide through education, research and advocacy.
The brainchild of former New Canaan resident Jeremy Brittain, whose sister Sarah attempted suicide last year, the SPOKES Ride got its name from a nonprofit organization that he founded — SPOKES stands for "Suicide Prevention: Our Knowledge Erases Stigma" — and raised funds for the Manhattan-based American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
"The turnout of the participants and the fundraising far exceeded our goals and we never imagined it would be this successful in its first year," Jeremy, now of Trumbull, said after the event, his wife and co-organizer Tanya standing nearby. He added with a smile: "Everyone seemed to enjoy the ride, though I did hear a couple of complaints about the hills."
Cyclists who had found sponsors tackled one of two courses that wound through picturesque sections of Fairfield's waterfront and neighborhoods. Escorted by police and some who documented the trip, cyclists of all ages and experience followed SPOKES Ride lawn signs on 12- and 35-mile courses. Jeremy said he would seek to hold the event every year, and has considered adding a 60-mile route for the very ambitious.
Following the ride, participants, organizers and supporters gathered under a canopy tent behind Trek and on tables set up in the sun for food supplied and sponsored by area businesses, conversation, raffle giveaways and other prizes from area businesses, such as Cherry Street East restaurant in New Canaan. Wilton-based dog and cat food maker The Blue Buffalo Co. underwrote the event's expenses. A full list of sponsors is available here.
Kimberly D. Gleason, eastern division director of the AFSP, said, "The way we're going to be able to understand and prevent suicide is by reaching out to communities and at least start the conversation. An event like this is a wonderful way to do that."
There are more than 24 million people in this country who have been diagnosed with diabetes, including more than 52,000 in Fairfield County. Several young New Canaanites live with the disease.
For the second year, Maria Kean and her father, Art Kean, the longtime owner of New Canaan's MobilMart hosted a fundraiser on Sept. 18 to support Saxe Middle School fifth-grader, Ashley Dunnam who has type 1 diabetes.
The station donated 4 cents of every gallon of gas sold on Saturday from 6 a.m. to midnight to the American Diabetes Foundation in Ashley's name.
Last year, the fundraiser was held on a Tuesday and it raised $700. There was more traffic this year on Saturday and when the festivities ended at 1 p.m., donations were close to last year's amount, not counting the portion from gas sales.
About Town asked Maria Kean how she became involved in this cause. She said, "Last year when Andrea Dunnam, Ashley's mom, told us about their first Annual Walk, I volunteered to do the T-shirts and supply water and suggested we hold a fundraiser here at the station. We like to give back to our good and loyal customers. Andrea grew up in New Canaan and has been coming here since she was a kid. We asked the Dunnam family if they would like us to do it again this year and we got hold of Star Radio, 99.9 and The Switch Beverage Company."
Michael and Maura Mottolese, president of The Switch, are New Canaan residents and their daughter Riley is a close friend of Ashley's. Maura said: "The Switch is a healthy alternative to soda comprised of only natural sparking fruit juice. There is no added sugar just natural sugar." Complimentary cans were offered in flavors ranging from fruit punch, mixed berry, lemon lime and tangerine orange.
Milt Partalas and Jessica Colucci represented Radio Star 99.9. Milt told About Town, "This is a great event and a good cause and we are happy to be here and give away goodies!" Among the give-aways were pens, buttons, beach balls, emery boards, and hand sanitizers.
Geri Brown, director of the Fairfield County American Diabetes Foundation summed up the goal of the event. "We are all here today to support Ashley Dunnam, our Fairfield County Youth Ambassador and her family." The Dunnam family formed Ashley's Army last year to garner support for diabetic awareness, research, education and community outreach. Last year, Ashley's Army was the No. 1 family team in the country for the American Diabetes Foundation with more than 400 people walking with them at the 2009 StepOut event and Ashley's Army's team raised more than $45,000.
Ashley and her Mom thanked everyone and Andrea told About Town, "It is wonderful that the Mobil's Kean Family and The Switch are so supportive and are going above and beyond for Ashley and the diabetic community in New Canaan.
Ashley herself said, "It feels good to be The Ambassador and Mobil and The Star 99.9 have been really nice!"
Then, Ashley and her girl friends danced together as the music of Star 99.9 blared out from their tent. The cars that filled their tanks received a special grade of gas today that included the extra kick of helping a good cause.
When mentioned to Andrea Dunnam that Ashley's Army was an incredibly cool name, she replied that Ashley chose that name herself! Not surprising coming from an "Ambassador!"
Everyone can join Ashley and her Army in the Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes being held at New Canaan High School on Oct. 3.
Thank you Maria and Art Kean for your continuing support and helping to raise awareness of diabetes in New Canaan.