Loud music and unhindered dancing with a group of not-your-stereotypical fraternity brothers was a welcomed celebration at Fairhaven School Saturday afternoon.
A group of 36 Pi Kappa Phi brothers made their way to the dance party via bicycles as part of their Journey of Hope ride across the country. They left San Francisco June 9 and plan to end up in Washington on Aug. 10.
"Today was a very good day. They are so awesome and they rock," said Fairhaven Workshop member Michael Thomas, 40, of Warren, before heading back onto the dance floor.
Niles was one of their many stops to raise awareness and acceptance of individuals with disabilities. They also raised more than $515,000 to donate to the organizations they are visiting. Fairhaven received a check for about $900.
Stephen Blythe, 20, from the University of Tennessee, said this is his first year making the trip and that along with building up his biking skills, he has been gathering a group of new friends and a new perspective.
Fairhaven client Susan Kerr, 44, of Warren, dances with Kyle Marpe, 20, of Purdue University’s Pi Kappa Phi. Marpe and 25 others are cycling from San Francisco to Washington as part of Journey of Hope. They stayed overnight at the school.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Margaret Thompson
"Cycling is more our means of transportation. It helps us understand what people with disabilities go through," Blythe, 20, University of Tennessee, said. "We can stop and get off our bikes, but people with disabilities can't just get off."
This is the 14th time the group has come to Fairhaven, according to Linda Tiihonen, Fairhaven Foundation director. She said the interaction between the fraternity brothers and the members of Fairhaven are constructive for both sides.
"It benefits them because they mix with our folks and they accept our folks and they come so far. It's just really great," Tiihonen said.
While taking a break from dancing, Cindy Drotleff, 43, a former Fairhaven Workshop member from Cortland, said it was a great reunion for her.
"Just being around old friends. I don't get to see anybody any more because I don't work at Fairhaven any more," Drotleff said.
On Friday, the men visited the Cleveland Clinic, and today they plan to be in Pittsburgh.
As they are approaching the last leg of their journey, their goal of raising acceptance of individuals with disabilities does not come to an end, they said.
"I really had no experience with this environment. I felt uncomfortable the first couple stops," said Dan Jeong, 22, University of Pittsburgh. "Now it's just natural."