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Everyday Evangelists: College student prepares for ‘Journey of Hope’

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February 7, 2011

By Mike Dyer

ST. MARGARET MARY DEANERY — Viewing a screen saver on a friend’s computer last year was all Matthew Calardo needed to understand that the Holy Spirit was preparing him for a different kind of challenge in his young life.

 

Matthew Calardo

Matthew Calardo is preparing for a summer cycling trip to benefit individuals with disabilities. (Courtesy photo)

 

Calardo, a 2009 La Salle High School graduate, said he was seeking a new avenue for his Catholic faith as a student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. During his first semester of college, Calardo felt his priorities were out of line.

 

But, that screensaver gave him images of hope and the realization that he could make a difference. It featured images of individuals, other college students, helping those with disabilities. Calardo’s friend then told him about Push America, a nationwide service organization with programs that educate undergraduates, alumni and communities about the abilities of people with disabilities.

 

“Seeing pictures of these men doing spectacular things made me realize I was missing something,” Calardo said. “I think I realized that the things that were making me happy at that time weren’t always going to be there.”

 

Calardo, who attended St. Ignatius of Loyola School in Monfort Heights, said the Holy Spirit called him to action.

 

“I made a decision that night to alter my definition (of) happiness,” he said. “I began going to church. I began praying. I began practicing. I wanted to do something big, and the Journey of Hope just fit.”

 

The Journey of Hope is a cycling project that began in 1987 when an individual rode 4,000 miles coast-to-coast to benefit Push America. The focus of Push America is on service leadership, construction and cycling. The organization was founded by Pi Kappa Phi, a fraternity of which Calardo is a member.

 

Beginning the first week of June, Calardo will be among 90 individuals, including four members of his college fraternity, that will bike across the country from San Francisco to Washington D.C., in order to raise awareness for people with disabilities. The trip will  conclude Aug. 18.

 

The cyclists will participate in a variety of activities between stops on their journey. Activities may include parades, wheelchair basketball games, bicycle safety seminars and pool parties. There are also puppet shows for youngsters, barbecues and fireside sing-a-longs.

 

“I am most excited to learn more about those with disabilities and make a tangible impact on these people’s lives, however small (that might be),” Calardo said. “Also, I look forward to bonding with the guys on the trip and seeing this amazing country of ours.”

 

Calardo, 20, needs to raise $5,000 for his cycling journey and had raised more than half that amount as of late January. His personal goal is to raise $6,000 for this summer.
Calardo dug ditches in Honduras on a high school mission trip and worked at a hospitality center in Over-the-Rhine, among other smaller activities. But, he has never tackled such a monumental physical journey as the Journey of Hope.

 

Calardo has been active in athletics all his life and said the 75-100 miles of daily cycling will be a challenge he will look forward to this summer.

 

A sophomore, majoring in philosophy and Middle Eastern studies, he  said this service project is certainly a foundation for his career goals and his faith life. Calardo helped to start a Bible study in his fraternity and regularly attends Mass at St. Stephen Parish on campus.

 

“The Journey of Hope could also be considered a personal journey of faith for me,” he said. “I am bringing a Bible with me. I want to learn. I just need to know more. Up until now, my faith has done nothing but help me. Like a skill, it has become dull, as I have gotten lazy. Not until now have I begun to practice and try to improve my relationship with God. It forces me to work harder and to give of myself more. It fosters growth and happiness.”

 

Calardo said there is a Facebook group about his Push America journey that has nearly 600 followers. To sponsor him on his journey, visit www.pushamerica.org and click on Calardo’s profile on the 2011 roster and profiles link.

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