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28978: Hermantin(news)Cyclist makes stop in West Palm Beach to help raise funds (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

A push to help Haitian children

Cyclist makes stop in West Palm Beach to help raise funds

By Alva James-Johnson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

August 23, 2006

In the rocky mountains of Colorado, Jesse Johnson dodged a beer bottle.

On the muggy roads of Georgia, he endured the sting of a BB gun.

Through every obstacle, he kept pedaling his silver, 27-speed bike for Haiti's children -- even when he felt like quitting.

"When I consider the challenges that those children who live on the streets of Haiti face, I really wanted to do something that was challenging," he said.

So on July 15, Johnson left his Seattle home to ride 4,000 miles in 40 days and raise awareness about some of the world's most vulnerable children. He hopes to raise $1 million to help them.

Johnson began the homestretch Tuesday, riding from Vero Beach to West Palm Beach. He arrived drenched with rain after battling a downpour.

"I got a little bit wet the last 20-something miles," he said, after arriving at CityPlace. "But that's OK. It cools everything down."

Today, Johnson will take U.S. 1 through Fort Lauderdale on the way to Toussaint L'Ouverture Elementary School in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood. About 450 students will greet him, school principal Liliane Delbor said. He will receive a proclamation from North Miami Councilman Jacques Despinosse.

Delbor said each class plans to contribute to the cause.

"I don't think words can describe the tremendous gesture on his part for those children living in Haiti," she said. "It's a great learning experience for our students."

Johnson, 31, is the former pastor of the Free United Methodist Church in Auburn, Wash. Earlier this year, he launched the Haiti Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports orphanages in the Caribbean nation.

He said a 2005 visit to Haiti with a friend who was adopting a child inspired him.

"I met 11- and 12- year-olds who were prostitutes. So many were without medical care and housing," he said. "That to me was very unacceptable."

Johnson has been to Haiti twice since the first visit. In October, he plans to take a team to the Three Angels Orphanage in Port-au-Prince to build a new kitchen, bathrooms and sleeping quarters to house 50 more children. He also plans to help some smaller villages obtain clean well water.

The foundation hopes to raise $1 million by asking 1 million people to donate $1 each. Johnson said he would not know how much the bike ride raised until it is finished, but money has been coming in. He said donors may contribute through www.bikeforhaitikids.org.

Johnson, who doesn't consider himself athletic, has been riding solo, averaging 115 to 120 miles a day, he said. But he has the support of his wife, Rachael, their 21-month old daughter, Trinity, his mother, Mary Anne Kuzara, and a family friend.

Along the way, he pedaled through several major cities, including Portland, Ore., Boise, Idaho, Salt Lake City, Denver, St. Louis, Nashville, Tenn., and Atlanta. He also rode through some of America's smallest towns and desolate places. Johnson has seen kindness as hotels and restaurants offered free accommodations and food.

Kuzara said she was reassured by her son's passion and commitment.

"I really thought he was going to fall apart mentally and physically," she said. "But I've not seen him break down, not even once."

Alva James-Johnson can be reached at ajjohnson@sun-sentinel.com or 954-572-2028.

Copyright  2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel