The Grand Parkway Ride: Methodists Help to Organize Unique Cycling Fundraiser to Fight Human Trafficking

Date Posted: 2/25/2016

On your mark… get set, and pedal over to the once-in-a-lifetime biking event planned for March 19 before the newest segment of The Grand Parkway opens in North Houston.
TAC leaders helped form a unique partnership between the Texas Department of Transportation, YMCA, Zachry-Odebrecht Parkway Builders and the United Methodist Church to generate fun –and funds for a great cause.
Everyone hates traffic – especially the atrocities of human trafficking. So what better way to publicize the need to stop this kind of “traffick” than to host a unique cycling fundraiser on a major new thoroughfare before it is open to traffic?

This one-of-a-kind opportunity, “The Grand Parkway Ride” is fast approaching.  Registration is required, and opens to the public on February 29 at  
The Backstory
Truth be told, cycling enthusiast Morris Matthis, Central North District Superintendent, has been eyeing the construction on the Grand Parkway for over a year, with this very goal in mind. “I called a friend at the county commissioner’s office,” he shares, “and told him about my weird fundraising idea. I thought he might hang up on me but, instead, he thought it was the coolest idea ever, and he connected me to someone at the Texas Department of Transportation to keep the conversation going.” Morris put together a leadership team for the event, including Rev. Susan Kent, associate pastor of The Woodlands UMC, and Cissa Madero, regional marketing and communications manager of the YMCA of Greater Houston.
“We kept moving ahead with logistics and details,” adds Morris, “for another six months, not knowing if it would ever become a reality, so it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster of stops and starts but finally got the green light in mid-February.” Publicity for the fundraising ride launched via the event website  and on biking enthusiast Facebook pages, reaching thousands of people almost overnight.
The 170-mile State Highway 99 opened its first section in 1994 and will be the longest beltway in the U.S. upon completion, and the region’s third loop. “For cyclists and citizens in general,” Morris notes, “This is an exciting celebration and preview of a new section of an important thoroughfare for the city.”
Organizers are expecting about 4,000 riders, thanks to a dozen or so Methodist churches in North Houston and YMCA branches that are helping make the Grand Parkway Ride an instant success.
Life-changing Purpose of the Ride
Shockingly, the I-10 corridor running through the Greater Houston area is designated as the top route for human trafficking in the nation.  It is estimated that 25% of victims in the U.S. are trafficked through Texas. This fact stimulates Houston area and Texas organizations and churches to advocate – and partner together --for these victims. Since 2003, the YMCA International Services Trafficked Persons Assistance Program has been providing life-saving and life-restoring services to the most vulnerable individuals in our community. So far, over 400 have benefitted. These are adults and children who have been turned into commodities to be bought and sold either through sexual exploitation or other forms of forced labor. “This event will not only raise funds to help us provide critical programs and services to this population, but will also raise public awareness of the issue and the impact it has on the clients we serve as we help them build stability, restore hope, create opportunities and change futures,” says Jeff Watkins, YMCA Vice President for Global Initiatives.
“We are very excited to be part of an event that brings the church and the community together to cycle to help our brothers and sisters in need,” adds Rev. Susan Kent, pastor of Local Missions & Women's Ministry, The Woodlands United Methodist Church. “Not only will we band together, building a closer community, but we will also help raise awareness and support the fight against human trafficking. The greatest way for us to fight injustice is to commit to caring for our neighbors just as the Grand Parkway is opening up the doors between our neighborhoods.”
Important information
Funds will be generated via the $50 entry fee for each rider registered ahead of the event. No one will be allowed to register on the day of the ride. Routes are available in incremental distances of 15, 25, 50 and 75 miles to fit all ages and levels of cycling experience. Details about registration, parking, rest areas and the YMCA International Services Trafficked Persons Assistance Program are available on the event website.
“Planning this has been a team effort – grueling and exciting at the same time,” Morris shares, “By the grace of God it is now going to be a great event to build human trafficking awareness and by doing something about it, per one of our Texas Conference goals to Invest in the Young.”
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